The Army and Air Force can resolve issues raised over acquisition and control of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that roiled the Pentagon and Congress this year, according to the Army Secretary.
"I think some of the disagreements may have come because the issues haven't been tackled at a high enough level," Pete Geren told the Defense Writers Group recently. "I feel like we're going to be able to work through those issues and come to a common understanding,"
In fact, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey has met with his Air Force counterpart, Gen. Michael Moseley, on UAS issues and plans to do so again, he said. Additionally, Geren has met with Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne on the same subject.
"I don't think we're as far apart as it appears" from some of the contentious discussions in Congress and in the Pentagon, Geren said. While there are strong differences of opinion at certain ranks in both services and considerable lobbying on the Hill, with top leaders working on the issues, "I think we'll get there."
Earlier this month, the Pentagon ruled against the Air Force proposal to become UAS executive agent, a battle fought out over most of the year in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill and strongly opposed by the Army, Navy, Marines and Special Operations Forces (Defense Daily, Sept. 17).
The Pentagon decision took other actions all aimed at providing "common, joint and operationally effective" UAS programs.
UAS have grown exponentially in type and number since the beginning of the war on terrorism. Missions have grown as well, expanding from reconnaissance and surveillance to direct attack.
Geren said discussions must consider the context of service roles and missions, and the difference between conventional and counter insurgency and urban warfare. "There are some fundamental issues we have to think through...the relationship of the Air Force and the Army, the airman and the soldier and this kind of conflict, and this kind of conflict is different than if we were in a conventional type of conflict."
Some advocate an approach that "makes sense if we were fighting a conventional war but doesn't sit well on the kind of conflict we face today," he said.
"The need for control of the UAVs as close to the individual soldier in the kind of war we find ourselves in today--we think is a high priority as well for the Army," Geren said.
The Army's position is that it wants to push asset control and decision-making to the soldier who is in the fight.
That's part of the Army push behind Future Combat Systems (FCS), the Army's investment in the future. The service wants to empower the soldier with more control and greater situational awareness, he said. This means pushing information that currently only a commander might have down the chain of command as close as possible to the soldier.
Thus, the Army is constantly seeking ways to accelerate technologies from FCS to the current force, he said. Theater commanders request specific operational capabilities and technologies currently in development in FCS.