Good News - Bad News on UAVs (Depending on Who You Are)


The good news is that the Air Forces plan to obtain control of all U.S. military medium- and high-altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has been rejected by the Department of Defense. The bad news is that the Air Forces plan has been rejected.UCAV-web.jpg

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England announced his UAV decision in a recent memo to senior civilian and military officials in the Department of Defense. According to the memo, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition is to create a task force to coordinate UAV issues and develop ways to "enhance operations, enable interdependencies, and streamline acquisition of [UAVs]." The Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) will be responsible for coordinating the development of training and tactics, added England.

Many defense officials and military officers -- Air Force and from the other services -- believe that the solution will not bring the volatile UAV situation under control.

The JROC was established to support the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his statutory responsibility to advise the Secretary of Defense on military requirements, programs, and budgets. Headed by the chairman, the JROCs membership consists of four-star officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley had proposed on 5 March 2007 that the Air Force take over the management of all Pentagon UAV programs. It was met with strong opposition from Army and Navy officials, who feared that Air Force control would subjugate their UAV requirements for direct support and other roles -- as well as control of funds -- to Air Force roles, missions, and schedules.

Thus, in lieu of forming an executive agency within the Air Force, Mr. England -- a former Secretary of the Navy -- has directed that an interagency task force will address how to promote interoperability and efficient operations among the services unmanned aerial vehicles. (There are more than 100 different types of UAVs now in operation or development.)

Mr. Englands memo did direct that the Air Force's Predator and Army's Sky Warrior UAV programs be merged by October 2008, to include a common data link, in order to achieve common development, procurement, sustainment and training activities." He did direct which service should lead this effort.

The decision especially relieves the Navy of concerns that the Air Force could subsume oversight of its high-dollar UAV contracts, especially the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAV) demonstrator, which was recently awarded to Northrop Grumman, and a soon-to-be-decided Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BMAS) contract. Some Navy officials believe those programs as well as other UAV efforts to be critical to future naval operations, both in blue water and coastal/littoral areas.

-- Norman Polmar

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