US plans 50% rise in drone flights over conflict zones

The US military uses drones in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants, in the conflict in Afghanistan, and against extremist groups in Somalia.
The US military uses drones in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants, in the conflict in Afghanistan, and against extremist groups in Somalia.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The Pentagon is planning a sharp increase in daily drone flights over conflict zones around the globe in the next four years as it tries to meet the reconnaissance and air-strike needs of combatant commanders, a spokesman said.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a US Defence Department spokesman, said the number of drone flights, known as combat air patrols, would be increased by about 50 per cent by 2019 - from between 60 and 65 a day to about 90. "We've seen a steady demand signal from all of our geographic combatant commanders to have more of this capability," Capt Davis told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.

The planes are used in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants, in the conflict in Afghanistan, against extremist groups like Al-Shabaab in Somalia and to gather intelligence in the Pacific. The plan to expand flights of drones such as the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper comes despite recent warnings from a senior US Air Force commander that the drone fleet and its operators were being stretched to the breaking point.

Capt Davis said because of those concerns, the air force sought to reduce the strain on the fleet by reducing the daily number of drone flights to 60 from 65.

The current plan, Capt Davis said, would be a Defence Department-wide effort to boost the total number of drone flights by relying not just on the air force but also on the US Army, Special Operations Command and contractors.

The air force will continue to conduct about 60 drone flights daily, while the army would fly between 10 and 20, and Special Operations Command would provide up to 10 more. The department also would rely on contractors to fly up to 10 other combat air patrols daily.

Boosting the number of drone flights will mean a sharp increase in the amount of surveillance video collected, requiring more intelligence analysts, the spokesman said. Capt Davis said the additional flights would be flown wherever combatant commanders deem necessary.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'US plans 50% rise in drone flights over conflict zones'. Print Edition | Subscribe