Sixty-five combat air patrols will likely be “the high point” of medium-altitude remotely piloted aircraft, such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. There’s an internal debate within the service on “the balance between manned/unmanned, medium-altitude/high-altitude, [and] penetrating/standoff” intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, said Donley during a meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., on April 23. “It’s time to make some strategic choices” about what the Air Force’s ISR inventory will look like post-Afghanistan, he said. The Predator and Reaper inventories will depend on whether they are applicable in other regions, and whether they would be operating in “a contested environment,” said Donley. Air Force officials must also decide whether these RPA would need to operate at a tempo as fast as they did in Afghanistan, he said. Asked to define the Air Force’s “penetrating” ISR capability, Donley said, “We’ve acknowledged the RQ-170 as a new-generation platform, and this is an area we need to work on going forward. And the high-altitude capabilities of the Global Hawk and U-2 are part of that discussion.” (See also Operation and Sustainment Costs No Threat to F-35 Buy, more coverage of Donley’s press event.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.