US to significantly increase drone flights by 2019

US to significantly increase drone flights by 2019
The US plans to increase military drone flights from 65 to 90 per day by 2019, partly relying on drones operated by civilian contractors to meet demand.
2 min read
18 August, 2015
The U.S drone campaign has resulted in high civilian casualties [AFP]

The Pentagon is planning a significant increase in daily drone flights over conflict zones around the world in the next four years, using army and civilian contractor operated drones to meet demand according to Pentagon officials.

Drone flights are planned to increase from around 65 flights to 90 fights a day by 2019, according to Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a U.S. Defence Department spokesman.

Reuters quoted Davis as saying: "We've seen a steady demand signal from all of our geographic combatant commanders to have more of this capability".

U.S. military drones are currently used against the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria and Iraq, and other areas such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen against suspected al-Qaeda and other militants.

However, the American use of unmanned militarized drones has been surrounded by controversy due to the number of civilian fatalities it results in and claims that it violates local governmental sovereignty.

Pakistan for example, which according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has witnessed 420 U.S. drone strikes since 2004 that have killed between 423 and 965 civilians, has described the strikes as "a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity".

However, senior U.S. officials said that while drones have been largely used to target terrorists and collect intelligence over combat zones, those needs may shift in the coming years.

Top military leaders, including the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, have named Russia as the America's most serious security threat, in addition to the threat represented by China's growing military power.

Under the plans laid out by senior Defence officials, the Air Force would continue to provide 60 daily drone missions, while the Army would conduct about 16, and U.S. Special Operations Command and civilian contractors would do up to 10 each.

"It's the combatant commanders, they need more. They're tasked to do our nation's business overseas so they feel that stress on them, and it's not getting better," said Air Force Maj. Gen. J.D. Harris, Jr., vice commander of Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

"There's just not enough of the Air Force to go around."

According to Pentagon officials, civilian contractors would fly surveillance drones, not the armed aircraft.

But senior Defence officials said they need at least a small contractor contribution in order to reach the total of 90 combat air patrols per day.