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Wed, Mar 17, 2010

Official Hails Effect Of Unmanned Aircraft On Warfare To House Panel

Flight Operations Have Grown To Over A Half-Million Hours Annually

A senior defense official told a Congressional hearing Thursday that perhaps no other weapon platform has more significantly transformed the way the U.S. military wages war in recent years than unmanned aerial aircraft.

Since 2006, operations have grown from about 165,000 hours to more than 550,000 hours annually, said Dyke Weatherington, the deputy for the unmanned aerial vehicle planning task force in the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. "I would articulate that it is difficult to find any other technology in the Department of Defense that in a single decade has made such a tremendous impact on the warfighting capability of the department," Weatherington told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The department's budget has reflected the growing emphasis on unmanned vehicles, with the annual allotment for development and procurement of such systems increasing from about $1.7 billion in fiscal 2006 to more than $4.2 billion in fiscal 2010.

Raven UAV Launch

The rapid fielding of such systems has not been without flaws, Weatherington acknowledged, citing ongoing challenges in making systems interoperable among various users of the technology. Yet, he said, the goal remains to maintain the ability to meet warfighters' urgent needs, while encouraging individual service branches to adopt the same technology.

"There are several examples of where, through Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff encouragement, we have gotten all the services to procure identical or virtually identical systems," he told lawmakers.

With almost 1 million such flight hours clocked in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is committed to growing the program to keep pace with demand for the capability. This year alone, the Army plans to train more than 2,000 operators who ultimately will deploy with the ground troops they will support, Carlile reported.

Shadow UAV

Army unmanned aerial systems come in three primary forms. The Raven, just under three feet long, supports battalions down to the platoon level. The Shadow, 11 feet long with a 14-foot wingspan, supports brigade-level operations. The more sophisticated "big daddy" of Army systems, the Extended Range Multi-Purpose system, has a 56-foot wingspan and supports division-level operations.

In addition to U.S. warfighters, these platforms have proven useful for American allies such as Pakistan, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates earlier this year said would receive RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles from the U.S. to support their fight against extremists.

Extended Range Multi Purpose UAV

The United States has been working with the Pakistani military for more than a year to enhance its own intelligence and surveillance capabilities, Gates said in remarks in January during a visit to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

"We share a lot of information that we acquire on the Afghan side of the border and from our satellites," Gates said, "but we also are trying to help the Pakistanis build their own

FMI: www.dod.gov

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