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Within the past few years, defense contractors have developed sensors with hyperspectral imaging, which uses satellite technology to monitor light fragments that make it possible to identify freshly overturned dirt and other signs of enemy movement. The Pentagon has put some of those sensors onto its MQ-1 Predator drones, the hunter-killer sister of the MQ-9 Reaper.

But acquiring too many unmanned aircraft assets could distract the Pentagon from a larger, more pertinent issue, said retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Gen. Deptula said the Pentagon’s military services should focus less on sharpening the weapons in its postwar toolbox and pay more attention to effectively sharing information that its surveillance tools collect.

Also, the Pentagon needs to revise its arcane strategic approach of supporting troops on the ground by building up a cache of medium-altitude drones, Gen. Deptula said. The drones are useful, but the number of them available to conduct a rotation of “orbits” in the sky is far less important than the amount of information that those drones need to be producing and communicating.

“The Department of Defense needs to evolve. The reality is that the solider, sailor, airman or marine does not care about orbits,” he said. “What they care about is the degree of information that they are receiving.”

There is also much debate about whether the military should continue to spend money on refining the weapons in its war chest or invest in technology that can respond to a wider array of hostile situations, Mr. Goure said.

“The really big next question is going to be, ‘Can you design one for a high-threat environment?’ And particularly, ‘Can you design a combat drone — not a fighter, but a combat drone — that can go out in that kind of environment and do a combat mission?’”