In light of the increased demand for a return of U.S. air power over Libya, despite the fact that U.S. jets are apparently available, the White House has given the green-light for the use of armed MQ-1 Predator drones in Libya, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said today.
The drones, armed with Hellfire antitank missiles will apparently make it easier to nail Gadhafi's forces who have confounded recent air attacks by using civilian vehicles and positioning themselves very close to civilians.
From the AP:
“President Obama has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those,” Gates said. “And in fact he has approved the use of armed Predators.”Apparently, the very first armed Predator mission happened earlier today but the plane had to abort the sortie due to bad weather.
“What they will bring that is unique to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on targets that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions,” Cartwright said. “They are uniquely suited for urban areas.”
While there's been much fretting about the inneffectiveness of NATOs airstrikes in stopping Gadhafi's onslaught, the drones, with their improved accuracy and ISR capability, could prove to be a serious boost for the rebel cause. One big question will be; how many Predators will be sent to Libya and where will they come from?
Until now, the Pentagon has been desperately focused on getting as many UAVs as possible sent to Iraq or Afghanistan/Pakistan. How will deploying Pedators to Libya impact operations farther east? Maybe these Predators are being pulled from combat as they are replaced by the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper. Or, maybe these UAVs are being pulled from Special Operations squadrons that operate around the globe. Still, you've got to ask how many of them exist, and again, how will that impact other ops?
This comes the same day as reports that the rebels have taken a strategic border crossing into Tunisia and the same week that France, Italy and the UK announced they will be sending military advisors to train the rag-tag rebel army on non-combat functions such as logistics .