Air Force Times 08-28-95 Issue


By Frank Oliveri 

     WASHINGTON -- The Air Force is trying to wrest control of tactical
unmanned aerial vehicles from the Army, which uses them for battlefield
reconnaissance, according to military officials.

     At stake is how tactical unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, should be
controlled above the battlefield, and by which service.

     The Air Force already has activated a UAV unit -- the 11th
Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.

     The squadron, activated July 29, expects to receive the first of up to
eight Predator drones in a year. The long-range drones, known as endurance
UAVs, are used differently from the shorter-range tactical vehicles the Army
would operate.

     Ten Predators were built under the auspices of the UAV Joint Program
Office in Washington, but two recently were lost in Bosnia. One was shot
down, and the engine failed on the second, possibly after being hit by ground

     The Nellis squadron is to receive any surviving Predators next summer,
said Ray Coleman, a spokesman for the UAV Joint Program Office. A Pentagon
spokesman said it is unclear whether the two lost drones will be replaced.

     So far, the Air Force is the only service expected to operate Predators.
The Nellis squadron later is expected to purchase and add other types of
endurance drones still under development.

     Any military service that has the money can buy and operate UAVs,
Coleman said. Who manages their use on the battlefield is another matter.

     All of the systems under development offer near real-time
reconnaissance; that is, commanders can assess battle damage and other
situations almost as it is happening rather than waiting for film to return,
be developed, analyzed and the information forwarded.

     Gen. Joseph Ralston, commander of Air Combat Command, is leading the Air
Force in calling for the operation of all UAVs within an air tasking order,
or ATO, according to Air Force officials. An ATO is a plan for air operations
in a combat theater. 

     But the Army is not thrilled with the idea.

     ``We can't be tied to long-term guidance,'' Maj. Doug Snow, the Army
Training and Doctrine Command assistant system manager for UAVs, said in an
Aug. 3 interview. ``We need to move out quickly, and the ATO is not exactly

     A senior Air Combat Command official acknowledged that maneuver
commanders lose some control when unmanned vehicles are managed under the air
tasking order. 

     ``Sure, but it's not like they're giving up control to the Air Force.
Keep in mind that the joint forces commander is the guy who determines who
controls [the] air, and oftentimes that is an Army officer,'' he said.

     Under present plans, the ground commander will control two tactical UAV
systems. At the corps and division level, ground units will operate the
Hunter tactical UAV.

     The Hunter enables the commander to see beyond the forward line of
troops out to the maximum range of his weapons.

     A second aircraft, the joint tactical UAV maneuver variant, is to
support smaller units such as brigades and battalions.

     Rand Bowerman, Army Training Doctrine Command system manager for UAVs,
said in an Aug. 1 interview, ``If you have the luxury of preplanning, you can
get into the ATO, but most combat missions won't be preplanned. You have to
get in in advance, and the ATO doesn't react quickly enough.''

     However, a senior Air Combat Command official said the Air Force would
work with the Army.

     ``We'll have exercises, but I'm giving you a prediction: If it flies,
it's on the ATO. [That] will be upheld by the Joint Staff, just like
everything else has,'' he said.

     Officials already have decided that higher-flying and longer-endurance
UAVs such as the Predator and the recently unveiled DarkStar will be included
in the air tasking order because the Air Force will own them.

     Meanwhile, officials overseeing the Predator program will work to
accelerate the integration of a radar into the aircraft to improve visibility
through clouds and fog.

     Military officials said a synthetic aperture radar system was to be
operational on the Predator by Jan. 1, 1996, but with the unmanned aircraft
flying missions over Bosnia, the need has become more urgent. 

     The aircraft operating over Bosnia by the UAV Joint Program Office now
use video and infrared cameras to transmit tactical battlefield images to a
U.S.-operated ground station.

     Program officials said the imaging equipment in the Predators has been
hampered by overcast skies and ground fog, forcing operators to fly the
reconnaissance aircraft lower than originally envisioned.

     Officials said the aircraft has operated below 4,000 feet and well above
20,000 feet in support of Operation Provide Promise, monitoring ground
operations in the Bosnian region. 

Copyright 1995, Army Times Publishing Company.  All rights reserved.

Transmitted: 11/21/95 3:46 PM (A00004WE)