This article first appeared in the Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is establishing a Pentagon task force to find new and innovative ways to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gates announced the new team during a speech at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., on April 21. During the speech, Gates said getting the military branches to field more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) quickly to support requirements for U.S. Central Command has been "like pulling teeth."
The task force will be led by Bradley Berkson, director of program analysis and evaluation.
Gates says that the Air Force may "require rethinking long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots and which do not." The Air Force trains certified pilots to operate the Predator while the Army does not require pilots to operate its similar Warrior UAV.
Commanders overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan say they have a shortfall of ISR collection in theater, and they specify that they want more full-motion video -- a capability provided by Predator, Warrior and Shadow systems.
The Air Force, however, says it is fielding Predators at an unprecedented rate. One Pentagon official says the service is expected to field its 25th "combat air patrol," (CAP) consisting of four air vehicles and ground support equipment, by June 1. This is double the number of CAPs in the theater about a year ago.
The limiting factor for fielding more Predator units quickly is training Predator crews. The Air Forces schoolhouse at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., is training about 160 crews per year, according to Air Force officials. However, that is not enough to operate the additional Predators being fielded. Additional funding will need to be included in the Air Force budget to increase training capacity to 240 crews per year in fiscal 2009.
Gates new task force will explore whether and how to push more UAVs and crews to support operations in Iraq, as well as other technological responses that could help support the massive intelligence requirements there.