By Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael M. Dunn
President/CEO, Air Force Association
October 17, 2007
Joint cooperation means maximizing effectiveness and efficiency. In this time of tight budgets—that is the foundation upon which success rests for the US military. The cost of failing to cooperate is simply too high—it means that our men and women on the front lines will not receive the best support available from all elements of the military.
One example of joint cooperation is the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The USAF Predator UAV can gather intelligence data, designate targets for precision strike, and even fire its own missiles to attack ground targets. The US Air Force has been utilizing these aircraft to support joint operations with great effect ever since Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. The Air Force has the unique capability of flying its UAVs from ground control stations that are actually located in the United States. This means fewer people have to be deployed abroad in harm’s way and enables the Air Force to keep the vast majority of its Predators flying in the combat theater—an astonishing 85% of these aircraft are deployed in combat operations at any given time. This is a truly revolutionary model of operations that has led to exponential increases in efficiency and provided results on the battlefield that are second to none.
However, despite these tremendous accomplishments that translate into direct support for the joint force, the US Army has taken steps to build its own force of Predator-like aircraft, called the Sky Warrior, for its own non-joint use.
The Army has opted to employ its Sky Warrior program in a very different fashion than the Air Force. Instead of keeping the vast majority of its UAV fleet deployed in combat operations, the Army’s Force Generation plan calls for one third of these Sky Warriors to be deployed in combat operations, while the remaining two thirds would be at their home bases, unavailable for use in combat. Put simply, if you gave the Army and the Air Force each 132 UAVs, the Air Force would deliver almost three times the combat power from its Predators than the Army would be able to provide with its Sky Warriors. Additionally, because of efficiencies inherent within the Air Force model of UAV operations, it can provide this increased combat capability with far fewer resources. Considering that the Department of Defense is facing increasingly tight budgets, wouldn’t it make sense to utilize the Air Force’s joint approach to the UAV situation? This is not about supporting one service over the other—this is about maximizing our resources in the most intelligent and effective way possible so that our men and women on the front lines, regardless of what uniform they wear, receive what it takes to win.