Monday, June 9, 2014

Congress likes military drones

Members of Congress have been strong supporters of military drone programs for two decades. In 2000, Congress ordered that “within ten years, one-third of U.S. military operational deep strike aircraft will be unmanned.” The 9/11 attacks gave added impetus to the effort to put precision-guided missiles on the reconnaissance drones, which were first utilized in Afghanistan. Both the Pentagon and the intelligence community rapidly increased their numbers of UAVs. In the case of the Department of Defense (DOD), the inventory grew from about fifty in 2001 to over 7500 by 2012, of which about 5 percent are armed. The budget jumped from $667 million in 2001 to $3.9 billion in 2012. The fraction of unmanned aircraft in the DOD inventory dropped from ninety-five percent in 2005 to 69 percent in 2011, and Congress in 2007 ordered a policy of giving “a preference for unmanned systems in acquisition programs for new systems.”

The Air Force was slow to embrace drones, not least because of the "white scarf" culture that believed pilots should fly war planes. Indeed, only rated pilots were allowed to guide drones.

Now the Navy is under pressure from Congress to emphasize stealthy drones over piloted warplanes, and the Navy is resisting for the same cultural reasons. 

This is the latest saga in an old story of military reluctance to seize the opportunities of new technologies because of the impact on how warriors see themselves and their missions.

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