Mar 23 2007

Air Force seeks to take over Unmanned Vehicle program

Dothan Eagle

By Lance Griffin

An Air Force request to take over most of the military’s Unmanned Aerial Systems program could put Fort Rucker’s UAS contribution in jeopardy.

Currently, the Air Force and Army handle the program jointly. Fort Rucker has been a UAS Center of Excellence since 2005. Much of the Army’s doctrine and warfighting strategy concerning how UASs are used on the battlefield is developed here.

But if the Department of Defense grants the Air Force request to be the "Executive Agency" for UASs, Air Force bases will likely house most of the UAS-related work.

Four Alabama congressmen have signed a letter sent Thursday to Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England to express concern over the Air Force request.

"We are apprehensive with the prospect that residing Executive Agency with the Air Force may very well come at the expense of the Army UAS program and, ultimately, the warfighter," the letter says, signed by U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile and Reps. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, and Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville. The Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville is also involved in the UAS program.

Everett spoke Wednesday to the American Institute of Engineers UAS Conference in Washington and said the Army should maintain a role in the UAS program.

"The focus of Air Force programs and missions are strategic, while the Army naturally emphasizes tactical ground combat operations. Army UAS fly different flight profiles than more strategic Air Force UAS, at different altitudes, with different sensor payloads, for shorter durations," Everett said. "In addition, the Army requires quicker response times for its tactical UAS missions while the Air Force has a longer turn-around time.

"It seems to me that we should be working towards a strategy of inclusion rather than exclusion," he added.

In 2005 when Fort Rucker was designated a UAS Center of Excellence, Everett said the designation helped position the post for long-term survival because it added another mission necessary for current and future military operations. Mission importance was the top criteria used to determine what military bases would remain open or be shuttered in the last round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). Officials believe another BRAC round will be held, but no date has been set.

The Air Force made a similar request in 2005, but the Department of Defense decided to make the program a joint effort. The same legislators opposed the request.

UASs often resemble remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters and are generally piloted by remote control. They can be used for a variety of functions, from surveillance to combat.