Cherrypicking Data

On Monday, John Young, in his final moments as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, levied criticism against the Air Force for not doing more, as the Army has done, to incorporate an auto-land capability with the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle. He cited this as a leading cause of Predator attrition. Here’s what Mr. Young didn’t say: The Air Force has been focused, per Office of the Secretary of Defense guidance, on getting as much overhead intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability to the war theater as possible. Today, USAF provides 35 simultaneous combat air patrols of Predators and MQ-9 Reapers to support the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is on track to supply 50 CAPs by 2011, two years before the Army’s own version of the Predator, the MQ-1C Sky Warrior, is ready for combat. Yes, Sky Warrior will have an auto-land capability and the Air Force may very well adopt it when it is mature. But, for now, there is no auto-land system available for Predator. (The auto-land system used with Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs weighs too much.) Mr. Young also didn’t say that the Air Force has made great inroads in reducing Predator accidents by forward deploying operators in theater to handle MQ-1 landings and recovery. One of the leading contributors of Predator mishaps during landing was the transmit delay when Predator operators stationed stateside sent command signals to the aircraft thousands of miles away. This is alleviated by having operators in theater.