Jul 26 2007

Air Force reins on unmanned aircraft opposed Delegation wants to protect state work

Birmingham News

By Mary Orndorff

 A proposal that the Pentagon concentrate control of unmanned military aircraft with the Air Force is opposed by Alabama members of Congress, who want to protect the work done at Army installations in north and south Alabama.

 "One service should not set the standards for others, especially given that the Army conducts nearly 80 percent of the (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom," Sen. Richard Shelby wrote to a top Department of Defense official this week.

Air Force officials have said the consolidation would make the program more efficient and improve management of the skies above the battlefield. The recommendation was endorsed last week by a joint advisory committee, prompting Shelby's letter to Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, who will make the final decision.

Making the Air Force the "executive agent" of the program would "undermine the joint progress made thus far and appears to create yet another layer of bureaucracy in the development and acquisition system," Shelby wrote.

Research into unmanned aerial vehicles is conducted at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and Fort Rucker in southeast Alabama is home to the Army's "center of excellence" for unmanned aircraft.

While jobs at those bases are not in jeopardy if the Air Force takes charge, Alabama officials say they're concerned about the Army's independence to choose its own unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

"Army UAVs fly different flight profiles than strategic Air Force UAVs, at different altitudes, with different sensor payloads, for shorter durations," said U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth. "If the Air Force controls any UAV asset that flies above 3,500 feet, tactical UAV requirements for ground combatants could become a lower priority."pitol Hill, Navy Rear Adm. Bruce Clingan said it might affect their ability to accomplish their missions.

"It would be like a ship requesting, `May I have a radar system tomorrow to accomplish my mission? May I have a set of binoculars tomorrow to accomplish my mission?' and hoping that it was allocated to you," Clingan said.

The change would not give the Air Force authority to direct operations of UAVs by the other services, according to the joint advisory committee recommending the change to the Penatgon.

"The Air Force proposal on UAVs is all about getting the most out of our (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) resources to increase this kind of capability for America's sons and daughters on the ground, at sea, and in the air, while promoting service interdependency, and the wisest use of American's tax dollars," Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff, said earlier.

U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, said the delegation is working to oppose the Air Force move and said he had spoken to DoD's England with serious concerns about the recommendation. "He told me he would gather information from various sources, including soldiers in the field, prior to reaching a decision."