- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New airspace for drones

The Pentagon is studying how to expand the use of highly effective combat drone aircraft from the Middle East and Southwest Asia to other commands, including Pacific Command and Africa Command.

A special task force at the Joint Chiefs of Staff is conducting the assessment in anticipation that the concentrated use of armed and surveillance remotely piloted aircraft, namely Predators and Reapers, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq will decline in the coming months as U.S. forces draw down from those theaters, according to a Pentagon official.

Two commands likely to get more drones are the Pacific Command and Africa Command, the official said. The Pacific Command is building up its forces in the face of China’s large-scale military buildup. Pacom also must deal with continuing tensions caused by North Korean military provocation.

Africa Command, too, is in need of drones after its rise to prominence during the recent Libya operations in support of anti-regime rebels.

Other commands interested in drone systems are the European Command and the Southern Command, which is focused on Central and South America.

Currently, the drones are key weapons for finding and killing al Qaeda members and other terrorists in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is building up its Predator and Reaper drone forces from 53 aircraft deployed this year to 65 in 2015, when it plans to have 33 Predators and 32 Reapers in use, backed with a force of up to 12,000 people. Funding for drones will be $4.8 billion this year, about the same as last year.

Air Force Col. James F. Sculerati, chief of intelligence system requirements at the U.S. Special Operations Command, on Wednesday told a conference on military drones that more drones in the future will be deployed with special operations forces.

“The tongue-in-cheek answer to what happens to all of those aircraft or all of those CAPs [combat air patrols] once Iraq and Afghanistan come back down from Tampa, we’ve got the answer: We’re going to take them over, we’re going to employ them some place,” Col. Sculerati told a conference hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Col. Sculerati said special ops drone missions will include more missions at night and in difficult weather. “The desert has been a very kind environment, the weather is favorable, the terrain is favorable,” he said.

“We already do a lot of work at night. We are going to do more work in weather, we are going to do more work in difficult terrain. We need vehicles that are capable of flying in darkness, in all weather.”

Israel’s military option

Israel’s military does not know the location of all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, some of which U.S. officials say were built underground to harden them against bombing and others located in populated areas to deter attacks that could kill civilians.

Details of Israel’s assessment of the Iranian nuclear program were outlined in a State Department cable from 2005 made public April 8 by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.

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