Pentagon Tries to Meet Demand for Predators:

The Office of the Secretary of Defense is pushing the Air Force to deploy nearly all of its MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to support ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Los Angeles Times reported March 21. While the Air Force is doing all it can to be supportive, service officials warn that placing more demands on the already overtaxed Predator fleet would have serious long-term implications, essentially breaking its back, the newspaper said. The pressure being exerted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to put more Predators in combat stems from the view that the Pentagon’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance community is still operating on a “business as usual” basis despite the urgency that the Army has for capabilities like the Predator to hunt insurgents, find roadside bombs, and, generally, save US lives, the Times said. The Air Force has been accelerating its efforts to get Predators in the field, upping the number of simultaneous combat air patrols that it can provide. But Gates has reportedly wanted even more, prompting Gen. Michael Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff, to submit to him an “all in” plan that would have provided 36 CAPs to the combatant commander in the Middle East/Near East region by August—there are currently 22, the Times said—but at the cost of shutting down Predator training operations. The plan was debated in January, but not adopted, the newspaper said. Even without that drastic measure, the Air Force is still struggling today to keep its Predator operator slots filled, having to extend the rotations of MQ-1 pilots well beyond their scheduled tours, the newspaper said.