Official: Air Force losing more drones than Army
April 28, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force has lost many more unmanned aerial vehicles than the Army, in part because Army drones have the ability to land themselves, the Pentagon’s outgoing procurement chief said on Monday.
John Young, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, raised the issue Monday shortly before his replacement was sworn in.
While discussing problems with the acquisition process, Young mentioned that the Army and Air Force are not talking to each other about their unmanned aerial vehicles programs.
"The Air Force built a budget that didn’t include putting auto-land capability in their Predators, despite the fact that we’ve lost a third of the Predators we’ve ever bought, and a significant fraction of the losses are attributable either to the ground control station or the pilot’s operation of that ground control station, or the pilot’s operation of the vehicle," he said.
"Of the 65 mishaps, 36 percent are human error, many of those attributable to ground station problems, a Defense official said. "Roughly half of those happened during the landing phase."
Predators cost between $3 million and $4 million, Young said.
Army unmanned aerial drones have the ability to land themselves, and the Army has lost "an insignificant fraction" of the aircraft, Young said.
"I have mandated in acquisition decision memorandums that the Air Force move as fast as possible to an auto-land capability," he said.
With improvements to ground stations and the added ability for Predators to land themselves, Predator losses are expected to drop by 25 percent, he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said unmanned aircraft are "a big part of our future" given their advantages over manned aircraft.
He mentioned the Reaper, an unmanned drone that can carry a payload of up to 3,000 pounds, compared to the Predator’s 500-pound payload.
"An F-16 has a range of about 500 nautical miles. A Reaper has a range of 3,000 nautical miles. A Reaper can dwell — has a dwell time over a target that can allow it to find and fix a target and then attack that target, by staying over it for a period of hours," Gates said recently at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
Also Monday, Young said he hopes a lighter variant of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle can give troops "most of the survivability" they need.
While MRAPs have proven effective in Iraq, their size and weight may restrict where they can go in Afghanistan, which does not have a developed road network. That is why Defense officials hope to field a lighter version of the MRAP known as the MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle by the end of the year in Afghanistan.
"My biggest concern is a lot of those MRAPs’ survivability is associated with weight," Young said. "I think we will have to have a good discussion with the user community about — you can have a vehicle that’s this light, and has this much off-road capability and all these other things and it has this much survivability, but I don’t know if we’re going to be [able] to get everything they want in that package."