Military Use of Unmanned Aircraft Soars
In this photo released by the Department of Defense, U.S. Army Pvt. Jeremy W. Reid, with 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, assembles an RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle in the early morning hours in Taji, Iraq, in this May 23, 2006 file photo. The use of unmanned aircraft in Iraq has surged by nearly a third since the recent build-up of U.S. forces began early this year, racking up more than 14,000 hours per month in the battlefield skies. The increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has put greater pressure on the military to better coordinate the purchase and use of the high-tech aircraft, particularly between the Army and Air Force. (AP Photo/Department of Defense, Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael Larson, U.S. Navy, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) - The military's reliance on unmanned aircraft that can watch, hunt and sometimes kill insurgents has soared to more than 500,000 hours in the air, largely in Iraq, The Associated Press has learned.
And new Defense Department figures obtained by The AP show that the Air Force more than doubled its monthly use of drones between January and October, forcing it to take pilots out of the air and shift them to remote flying duty to meet part of the demand.
The dramatic increase in the development and use of drones across the armed services reflects what will be an even more aggressive effort over the next 25 years, according to the new report.
The jump in Iraq coincided with the build up of U.S. forces this summer as the military swelled its ranks to quell the violence in Baghdad. But Pentagon officials said that even as troops begin to slowly come home this year, the use of Predators, Global Hawks, Shadows and Ravens will not likely slow.
"I think right now the demand for the capability that the unmanned system provides is only increasing," said Army Col. Bob Quackenbush, deputy director for Army Aviation. "Even as the surge ends, I suspect the deployment of the unmanned systems will not go down, particularly for larger systems."
For some Air Force pilots, that means climbing out of the cockpit and heading to places such as Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they can remotely fly the Predators, one of the larger and more sophisticated unmanned aircraft.
About 120 Air Force pilots were recently transferred to staff the drones to keep pace with demands, the Air Force said. (cont...)