Pentagon chief seeks more drones in Iraq

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. military needs more drones and equipment to collect intelligence and conduct surveillance in Iraq despite a big boost in those capabilities since 2001, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday.

But Gates said he has hit resistance inside the Pentagon and indicated that the Air Force’s desire to use pilots for its missions has kept the Defense Department from employing more effective and lower cost unmanned aircraft.

“I’ve been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets into the theater,” Gates told officers at the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base.

“Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it’s been like pulling teeth,” he said. “While we’ve doubled this capability in recent months, it is still not good enough.”

Gates said he formed a task force last week to quickly find new ways to get those capabilities to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the group’s findings may force the Air Force to replace pilots with unmanned aircraft on some missions.

It may also force the Air Force to reconsider the type of aircraft it needs, the Pentagon chief said.

“All this may require rethinking long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots and which do not,” he told the group.

“For those missions that still require manned missions, we have to think hard about whether we have the right platforms, whether for example low-cost, low-tech alternatives exist to do basic reconnaissance and close air support in an environment where we have total control of the skies,” he said.

Gates compared the new task force to the one that studied the military’s need for more bomb-resistant vehicles, which led to the Pentagon’s $20 billion program to speed mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to Iraq last year.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, is the category of systems that collect, process and disseminate intelligence. For the Pentagon, ISR often refers to systems used to observe an area or group and acquire information that can be used in targeting.

It includes satellite systems and unmanned aerial vehicles, such as Northrop Grumman Corp’s Global Hawk, that provide targeting information and can warn troops on the ground of an approaching threat.

“Today we now have more than 5,000 UAVs, a 25-fold increase since 2001,” Gates said. “But in my view we can do and we should do more to meet the needs of men and women fighting in the current conflicts while their outcome may still be in doubt.” (Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:57am EDT
By Kristin Roberts

Source: Reuters

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