President Obama has approved the use of armed Predator remotely piloted aircraft in Libya, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. Gates said their introduction means “a very limited additional role” for the United States that is consistent with Obama’s willingness to provide unique US assets to support the NATO-led mission there. The armed Predators’ first sorties on Thursday were limited due to bad weather, said Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, at the same briefing. Unarmed Predators previously flew surveillance missions over Libya, he noted. There are now two armed Predator combat air patrols operating in the Libyan theater, said Cartwright. This means that two Predator aircraft can be over areas of interest at all times. Cartwright said “the character of the fight has changed” in Libya, with Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s forces staying out of the open and dispersing and “digging in or nestling up against crowded areas” to avoid NATO air attack. The Predators will enable “better visibility” on such targets and help distinguish the Qaddafi forces, he said. They also provide the ability to strike targets in urban areas with less concern about causing unintended collateral damage, he said. (Gates-Cartwright transcript)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.