UAV Turf Wars
As a former Army unmanned air vehicle pilot and mission commander, I feel I must contribute my two cents to Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula’s ideas on the philosophy of UAV operation and deployment. (Air Force to Army: There Are Better Ways to Deploy Surveillance Aircraft, January 2010).
It doesn’t take much to read between the lines to see that Deptula’s statements are based on a “turf-war,” despite his comment to the contrary. His statements lead me to believe he does not understand the Army’s philosophy or mission in utilization of UAV assets. He mentions utilizing a “joint approach” — that is exactly what the Army’s brigade combat teams are doing by combining infantry, artillery, armor and a UAV system into one team, as is the case with the brigade’s Shadow UAS. They train together and they fight together. It’s almost impossible to put valuation on that kind of joint training and, therefore, effectiveness.
Regarding a joint-service approach, that is how the Army’s Hunter and Sky Warrior UAVs are utilized. Having been part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq utilizing the Hunter UAV, we would target one enemy emplacement with Air Force A-10s and another with Army Apaches or Marine Corps artillery. Post-combat operations, our missions came from the highest-levels coordinating across all military branches. Additionally, there is no downtime in UAV coverage when a brigade rotates out of theater. There is overlap to hand off the mission properly.
Deptula’s statement that he believes flying UAVs from U.S. bases in split-operations is a dead-giveaway to his Air Force mindset: strategic vs. tactical.
The Air Force typically wants to build the biggest, fastest, highest flying aircraft they can and they’ll get about 40 to 50 UAVs out of those specifications and funds. The Army wants to deploy UAV capability out to as many units as possible and will therefore get 250 UAVs out of the same money or less. The Army doesn’t measure its aircraft speed or performance on the mach-meter (mach meter equals $$$). And yes, the Army may only have 78 Shadows deployed, but that is still 78. How many is the Air Force flying in theater? The last time I was flying UAVs in Iraq the airspace was saturated with UAVs.
Regarding the testing of Shadows using satcom, once again, Deptula just doesn’t seem to understand the Army’s mission in regards to UAV deployment. That’s why that “dog and pony show” of flying a Shadow via satcom wasn’t bought by the Army, which was destined for failure from the beginning.
In regard to the anonymous Air Force pilot’s comments that Army commanders are not making best use of the equipment, does the Army really need a UAV that can fly at 40,000 feet, when the ones flying at 5,000 to 10,000 feet are working just fine at a fraction of the cost? Is it really that efficient for the Air Force to utilize officers, trained to fly C-130s, A-10s, etc. when the Army is training privates and specialists (E-3s and E-4s) to do the same job? As a side note, this is also a source of contention with the Air Force because it simply makes them look bad when a private can do a captain’s job.
The Air Force doesn’t want to use a Shadow as a theater asset. It’s not big enough, or doesn’t have the endurance or payload capability it wants for a “theater asset.” The whole debate stems from the fact that the Air Force wants the “UAV piece of the pie” because the insurgents’ lack of an air force isn’t justifying the need for F-22s and stealth fighters. It is the Air Force’s conviction that if it is fixed-wing or “sexy” (as determined by the Pentagon) then they want it because that equals big dollars. And right now, unmanned-anything is very sexy to the Pentagon.
If Deptula wanted a greater understanding of how the Army wanted to utilize UAV assets, then perhaps he could gear up with a patrolling unit in Iraq and see why it’s important for a brigade to have its own UAS with operators who are also trained in infantry and patrol tactics. Brigades need their own UAS, especially when Air Force Predators occasionally decide to re-task mid-mission because there is something sexier going on in the adjacent kill-box.
Byron GrahamCollecting Intelligence
Sent via email
I wanted to thank you for your excellent summary of the issues surrounding sensor data being applied to practical use in tactical situations. (“Military swimming in sensors and drowning in data,” National Defense, January 2010).
Some of the people you quoted appeared to think that the article’s topic is something new. Yet, it is a problem that has existed for some time.
As someone who develops algorithms for sensor data processing and designs software for improved throughput, the Defense Department’s approach to “solving” the data flood is very discouraging. The thrust appears to be hiring more and more people to stare at CRTs while hand-massaging data. From my personal point of view, there is a lot of effort spent to deploy more sensors but little effort put into deciding what the sensors will be used for within an end-to-end chain (sense, transmit, analyze, decide, act).
The problem does not lie in algorithms to automate much of the processing. At the present time, humans are employed as a critical node in the analysis. It is possible to put the human into a supervisory role while automation deals with much more of the analysis than it does now.
One place where more research is needed is in the “transmit” part of the chain. The level of data throughput (the amount of actual data sent per second as opposed to the number of bytes sent per second) is woefully behind the volume of data being generated.
It is my opinion that the department needs to increase the amount of analysis automation and emphasize research into data transmittal schemes, relatively beyond the amount of research devoted to sensor hardware and deployment.
Peter RaethAcquisition Reform
Sent via email
Sandra Erwin’s January 2010 editorial, “Acquisition Reform Act: The Backlash Has Begun,” highlights a never-ending problem. As pointed out in the article, we have had more than 126 blue ribbon studies on how to reform the acquisition process.
During my 30-year military acquisition career, I either sat on several panels, or provided support in the implementation of various initiatives to improve the acquisition process. Back in the 1980s, Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci had his initiatives. While informative, they brought attention to the need to get our acquisition personnel trained and certified at various levels in acquisition. At the time, the Defense Systems Management College (DSMC), was charged to get his initiatives taught to all the military services and defense contractors’ personnel.
Each administration has sought ways in which to improve the way we purchase weapon systems. Each piece of legislation generates more manpower to implement and monitor the compliance of these enacted laws. Moreover, each military service has additional personnel to interpret the intent of Congress on each piece of legislation affecting the acquisition process.
While these activities are overhead costs to their services and do not directly enhance the timeliness of getting military hardware to the field, we are required to perform such duties.
Whenever passed legislation is not written clearly, it only confuses those charged to carry out congressional mandates. Such seems to be the case regarding the current Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009. We need to go back to our congressional members for clarification of their intent and for them to give the military the clearest direction it needs. Only then can we all be on the same page in the improvement of the acquisition process.
Ronald L. Baker, Col., USAF (Ret)