The commander of U.S. Air Force assets in the Pacific said Tuesday hed like to see high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance drones like the RQ-4 Global Hawk perform non-military missions to protect commerce in the region.
Gen. Paul Hester told a gathering at the Air and Space conference in Washington hes been in discussions with regional commanders and Pacific Rim governments over the last two years to see how the Air Force could patrol economic choke points, such as the Strait of Malacca, using Global Hawk and other drones.
Theres a much broader array of things that we can do with ISR platforms, both RQ-1 Predators and Global Hawks, Hester said. Where does ISR play into the performance of all of us and our desire for peace and security in the Pacific to secure [and] guarantee the economies of those countries better throughout the Pacific? And how do we protect those lines of communication both air and sea lines of communication? Almost half of the worlds oil passes through the Malaccan Straits every day.
Hester said hes been talking to regional governments to see if drones could extend their ranges by stopping off at friendly bases something he called gas-and-go operations.
Is there a way that we can use in a consortium-style operation ... in a way that we can share information? he wondered.
In the end, though, Hester has a pretty good point. Its what former Marine Commandant Mike Hagee called Phase Zero operations. Those all-seeing eyes could keep potentially bad situations from getting totally out of hand.
I call it the left end of the low end of operations where we provide those eyes, ears and information for decision makers both military and political then we have the ability to solve problems early as opposed to waiting until later when weve got our guns drawn and were pointing them at each other, Hester said.
The Global Hawk is scheduled to deploy to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in 2009 to replace the U-2 missions over the Korean peninsula. Hester said hes planning a test-run of his economic security theory with a single Global Hawk next year to see what the Global Hawk can bring us.