UAV Takeover Shot Down

The Air Force's bid to take over all of the U.S. military's flying drones has been shot down, Inside Defense says.shadow_launch.jpgOver the years, the various branches of the military have all pursued their own independent, often overlapping, unmanned aerial (UAV) vehicle programs. The result is a giant, jumbled robot menagerie, with over a dozen species of military drones flying in Iraq. Few of them speak the same language, or work together well. Soldiers often have to wait weeks for a slice of the radio spectrum that they can use to talk to their UAVs.That's why panel after expert panel has recommended that someone take control of this unmanned zoo, and start getting the creatures to play together nicely. Last year, Air Force generals nominated themselves to be the zookeepers. They offered the Air Force up as the "Executive Agent" for UAVs -- the financial and operational gatekeeper for all robots in the air.In many ways, it was a logical choice. The flyboys already understand the skies, managing the "Air Tasking Orders" that tell American planes when and where to fly over a warzone. And they've long been the military's gadget freaks. That's why, back in the day, they got the bulk of the Pentagon's space program, too.But there was also a heaping scoop of self-interest in the Air Force move. The service's fighter jocks have had a whole lot of free time on their hands, ever since the Cold War ended and all those Soviet MiGs stopped flying. And which service has been the most threatened by the rise of robo-pilots?Plus, UAVs -- especially the little, hand-thrown models -- aren't exactly planes. As I noted in last month's Wired, "they have wings and fly, but they're more like guns (or cameras) with wings than planes with guns." And the last thing any Army or Marine general wants to do is give up his guns. Or kiss some fighter jock's ass every time he needed to buy a few more flying cameras for his men.So, in the end, it wasn't a surprise that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council -- the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the vice chiefs from each of the services -- nixed the Executive Agent idea in a June 1 meeting.Instead, Inside Defense reports, they endorsed the idea of turning the Air Force's new UAV Center of Excellence near Las Vegas into an establishment for all four services. "That center will be led by a rotational flag officer, with the first leader being an Army one-star [general]," according to the newsletter. "The deputy, also a rotational position, will initially be filled by an Air Force colonel."

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