With its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) increasingly being used to target terrorists and support ground troops, the U.S. Air Force plans to double the number of its drone squadrons over the next five years.
The rough terrain of Afghanistan has made it a testing ground for remote operations employing drones and UAVs are in the air there more than eight times as long as manned fighter aircraft. Overall, the number of hours logged by the MQ-9 Reaper attack drones has more than doubled between 2011 and 2015.
DefenseOne reported yesterday that the U.S.Army is using teams of manned Apache attack helicopters and Shadow drones in Iraq to battle ISIS and is talking about an attack-reconnaissance squadron using the Apace-Shadow combination.
Military spending in the fiscal 2017 budget proposed by President Obama last February includes more than $4.6 billion for drones and related technology, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College -- about $1.2 billion less than what was requested for the previous year. But a report by the Center says that is because “most of the current major acquisition programs have already met their aircraft totals or have gone over budget.”
The report also said that while aerial drones account for most of the proposed spending, there is a new emphasis on other types of unmanned military vehicles. “The Navy, for example, will begin procuring new unmanned undersea vehicles for detecting sea mines and will add tens of millions of dollars for research and development of new, larger UUVs,” the report said. “The Army, meanwhile, will boost funding for unmanned ground vehicles and will initiate new projects to research swarming weapons and increased autonomy.”
According to Reuters, the Army already has about 130 MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft, successors of the Predator, and it said in toto the military has thousands of drones, mainly for surveillance.
As the role of pilots recedes, the Air Force plans to add some 3,500 personnel to the crews operating its drones. And in its Air Superiority Flight Plan 2030 released late last month, the Air Force said, “Development of cyber capabilities and Airmen who can operationally employ those capabilities is essential to air superiority in 2030 and beyond.”
Now aspiring Airmen can practice at home. Homefront: The Revolution Goliath Edition, a new video game from Deep Silver, a division of Koch Media, comes with an operational drone.