Defense secretary Robert Gates seems to be waging a counter-transformation, terminating Rumsfeld-era tech programs and shifting to a more labor-intensive military posture. But there is one technology Rumsfeld championed of which Gates is similarly enamored: unmanned aircraft like Predator. No doubt about it, unmanned systems really have proven useful in putting persistent surveillance capability over war zones. But now the very popularity of unmanned aircraft has begun to spawn a backlash.
The problem is that the Pentagon is buying so many unmanned aircraft that some of them will soon have relatively little to do. Not only are there now a lot of Predators and low-end UAVs in the field, but advances in sensor packages mean that multiple missions can be accomplished by one airframe, reducing the requirement for large numbers. In addition, unmanned systems have operational deficiencies that limit their utility in many military missions. So while a few systems such as the high-flying Global Hawk have genuinely unique capabilities, doubts about buying more unmanned aircraft have begun to build within the Pentagon.
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