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Air Force committed to unmanned aerial vehicle development

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 14, 2006) -- Unmanned aerial vehicles are successfully transforming the way the Air Force does business, and the service is committed to supporting and developing more of them.

Innovative UAV tactics have transformed the battle space as witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Maj. Gen. Stanley Gorenc, Air Force deputy chief of staff for air and space operations, at testimony before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces April 6.

"UAVs are transforming the way Air Force and the joint team fight, and are a critical component of the future joint force," the general said. "UAVs give us operational capability in persistent and precise ways while offering the promise of even more capability in the future.

"The Department of Defense has embraced the distinctive capabilities unmanned systems bring to the joint fight, and the Air Force stands firmly behind this endeavor," General Gorenc said.

"UAVs not only provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but also enable accurate and timely direct and indirect fire," he said. "Their success has led combatant commanders to request them in ever greater numbers and we are doing our best to make sure that we meet their requirements."

The MQ-1 Predator A is leading the way in reconnaissance and imagery, General Gorenc said. In written testimony to the committee, the general outlined the UAV's capabilities and the Air Force's plans for it.

"(The Predator) is flying missions around the clock every day," he said. "Armed with Hellfire missiles and equipped with electro-optical, infrared and laser designator sensors, the Predator shortens the sensor-to-shooter timeline because the sensor can also be the shooter."

The capabilities of the aircraft have made it desirable for commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, General Gorenc said.

"Combatant commandersí unceasing demands for additional Predator orbits, I think, should be viewed as a testament to that transformational system's utility and success," he said. "The Air Force's Predator employment has been a resounding success in the global war on terror."

General Gorenc said the Air Force plans to meet the increasing demand by expanding mission capability to nine orbits and by growing that to 12 orbits by the end of 2006.

The Air Force also uses the MQ-9 Predator B, an aircraft billed as a "hunter-killer." The system is being designed to perform not just reconnaissance missions, but also to deploy weapons such as the joint direct attack munition and the small-diameter bomb. It will also have the capability to self-designate for Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs.

General Gorenc said the MQ-9 and MQ-1 are at different stages of development and have different missions, but that the Air Force is committed to fielding the MQ-9.

"We are looking at various options to accelerate development and testing to ensure the warfighter receives an effective and sustainable system as rapidly as possible," he said.

He also said the Air Force is working to develop a "family-of-systems" concept to manage smaller UAVs such as the hand-launched Desert Hawk.