Publicado: 1ero de Enero de 2009
Air & Space Power Journal - Español  Cuarto  Trimestre 2008

“Organic” Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems:

The Unhealthy Choice for the Joint Operational Environment

Major (USAF) Travis A. Burdine


Grunt 21, this is Cyclops 55 ready for check-in,” says the USAF Predator Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) pilot over the radio. Grunt 21, an Army ground unit, replies, “Cyclops 55, this is Grunt 21, go ahead with check-in.” The pilot, in a ground control station in Las Vegas says, “Cyclops 55 is a single MQ-1B Predator, currently overhead at 12,000 feet, armed with two Hellfire missiles, twenty-one hours of playtime, with both infrared pointer and laser designator capability, sensors are on the target house, ready for situation update.” He replies, “Cyclops 55, Grunt 21 copies all, situation update is as follows: the ground commander has been waiting for two days to get USAF UAS support over this target house. The plan is to execute a raid two hours from now. We are looking for a high-level insurgent commander and a weapons cache.” The UAS crew replies, “Cyclops 55 copies all.”

Two hours later, just prior to initiating the raid with Grunt 21, the UAS crew hears a separate ground unit call for help. “This is Alpha 6, we are being engaged, multiple friendlies killed in action, requesting immediate close air support (CAS)!” Alpha 6 is an Army Special Forces team located 15 miles away. They are pinned down and receiving hostile fire. Knowing troops-in-contacts (TICs) are highest priority objectives, the UAS crew immediately conveys the TIC information to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) and the Special Forces operations center. Cyclops announces to the CAOC they could be overhead the TIC in less than three minutes if released from current tasking. The CAOC immediately authorizes the crew to support the CAS request. The USAF UAS crew informs the original supported unit, “Grunt 21, sorry. Cyclops 55 is off target at this time to respond to a nearby TIC.”

The UAS crew calls the airspace controllers and requests “immediate clearance at 12,000 feet” to the coordinates of the TIC. The controller comes back with, “Cyclops 55, stand by, Army restricted operating zone (ROZ) Charlie is active directly in your flight path, surface to 25,000 feet.” The crew tersely responds with “Cyclops 55, is unable to stand by, we are responding to a TIC with US casualties, need immediate clearance any altitude!” The controller’s delayed response is, “Unable to clear you for that airspace at this time, I do not own that airspace, it was chopped to the Army earlier this morning and the status is unknown.” The controller follows up with, “We are trying to contact the Army on a separate channel. In the meantime, I will work you a longer alternate route.” While working the airspace problems, Cyclops checks in with Alpha 6 and receives the situation update. With automatic weapons firing in the background Alpha 6 reports, “We hit a roadside bomb and were ambushed by an unknown number of insurgents. We are taking fire and need immediate close air support!” After 13 minutes of working airspace issues, a full 10 minutes slower than required, the UAS crew finally declares “on station.”

Upon passing the target information, the ground controller says, “Cyclops 55, this is Alpha 6, you are cleared hot, danger close!”

The UAS crew immediately responds with, “Weapons away, 16 seconds to impact.”

As the missile destroys the target, a message arrives from the Predator liaison officer in the CAOC. The message is in reference to the original Army unit who was supposed to have Predator coverage all day. The message says, “Cyclops 55, there is an Army colonel on the phone with the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC), screaming about how you botched the entire operation by leaving his unit without his permission. He is irate and cancelled his entire ground operation for the day, because you failed to support him by departing your orbit . . . again.”

The Question

The opening scenario highlights the following key points regarding UASs in the joint operational environment:

The rapid increase in demand for long-duration Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance ( ISR) assets, coupled with the USAF’s inability to meet that demand, has forced the Army to initiate procurement of their own extended-range, multi-purpose, armed, “organic” UAS that will operate independently from JFACC centralized control or tasking authority.

Is the Army’s decision to parcel out these theater-capable UASs to division commanders the right way to apportion these limited-supply high-demand assets? Do organic Army UASs provide the Joint Force Commander (JFC) the optimal solution to achieve US military objectives? The Army’s decision to develop and field organic theater-capable UASs is not in the best interest of the US military. However, solutions exist for the integration of these more capable Army UASs into the joint operational environment.


UASs give the JFC the ability to both gain battlefield situational awareness and project power, while eliminating the risk to human life. According to one key document , “Information is the key enabler to today’s joint warfighter,” and ISR is still the number one Department of Defense (DoD) priority for the Combatant Commanders.1 UASs today deliver real-time full motion video and signals intelligence directly to tactical users and strategic decision-makers, while “maintaining a degree of covertness.”2 The ability to sustain long duration missions (in excess of 18 hours) by changing crews in the middle of a sortie is a unique capability of UASs. They provide “unrelenting pursuit” of the enemy while reducing the time required to prosecute “actionable intelligence.”3 The JFC is able to wield this capability without air refueling tankers or combat search and rescue support. Additionally, most USAF Predator crews conduct operations from the United States via Remote Split Operations (RSO).

USAF MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, for example, currently fly 24-hour combat air patrols (CAPs) supporting the JFC in the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR). Each CAP provides armed reconnaissance with full motion video at a fraction of the cost of manned assets. According to the 432d Wing at Creech AFB, NV, Predators and Reapers in 2006 and 2007 launched 262 Hellfire missile shots (96% direct hits), supported 556 TICs, and provided armed ISR during 1,259 raids on enemy compounds in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, while burning less than four gallons of fuel per hour.4 As demonstrated in the opening example, long-duration, centrally- controlled, theater-capable UASs can also be dynamically re-tasked to higher priority objectives within seconds. From proactive events (raid support, target development, direct attack) to reactive events (TICs, road side bomb detections), UAS demands and capabilities continue to grow.5


The number of requests for UASs is staggering. In a memorandum to all his commanders, the former Air Force Chief of Staff (CSAF) stated there is “a continued and apparent[ly] insatiable demand for our UAS capabilities,” before outlining his plan to increase the USAF UAS capacity.6 The USAF Air Combat Command (ACC) Directorate of Requirements reported Predator UASs alone have now flown over 400,000 total hours (since 1995), are currently flying over 13,000 hours per month, and support the JFC with 27 combat air patrols in the CENTCOM AOR (as of July 2008). To put this in perspective, three additional CAPs are the equivalent of building an entire fighter squadron worth of aircrew.7 There has been a 300% annual increase in requests for full motion video.8 Although USAF UAS capacity is doubling every two years, it is still unable to keep up with current warfighter demands (see Figure 1).9 Effective integration of emerging capabilities and systems into the joint operational environment for UASs is vital to the future success of US joint combat operations.

Predator Operational Flight Hours

(Source: HQ ACC/A8U1)

MQ-1B Predator versus MQ-1C Sky Warrior

The USAF and the Army have developed two distinctly different constructs for operating essentially the same airframe in the joint operational environment. Both systems are theater-capable, medium altitude, armed, multi-role unmanned aircraft manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (see Figure 2). They both have two lasers (one for guiding munitions and one for illuminating targets at night), infrared (IR) cameras (for night operations), electro-optical (EO) cameras (for color daytime video), fly either line-of-sight or beyond line-of-sight with a satellite link, and both aircraft visually appear almost identical. The USAF has flown Predators since 1995 and the Army is still developing the Sky Warriors. Figure 2 highlights the newer Sky Warrior’s increased capabilities, including the ability to carry two extra missiles, and fly 4,000 feet higher.10

Predator and Sky Warrior Aircraft Comparison

Air Force

The USAF perspective stems from over 60 years of flying theater-capable medium to high altitude manned aircraft, and over 13 years and 300,000 hours of unmanned Predator time. The Predator UAS, the “Wright Flyer” of UASs, became the first production UAS in the USAF inventory. The USAF and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) believe only rated pilots (or navigators with civilian commercial instrument ratings) should operate the larger theater-capable UASs. They argue the skill set required to operate UASs in the joint operational environment is nearly identical to that of manned assets.11 Highly skilled pilots mitigate the risks associated with flying UASs in complex crowded airspace and dropping precision weapons in close proximity to friendly forces.

To meet the overwhelming demand for ISR while reducing the need for constant deployments, the USAF developed a technical solution to allow aircrew to perform theater operations from at their home station. The RSO concept allows for a reduced expeditionary footprint by allowing the pilot to control the aircraft via a satellite link. The USAF logically believes all similarly capable UASs should use this model of control, due to the significant efficiencies gained.

USAF doctrine states that centralized control of limited airpower assets is essential to maximize aviation’s strengths of range, speed, mass, and lethality. In a memorandum to the Chief of Staff of the Army, the former CSAF said, “Interdependence has become the standard for joint operations and is a major priority for the Air Force.”12 USAF doctrine calls for the Theater Air Control System, operated through the CAOC, to manage the air war. Centralized control of the entire airspace and all theater-capable assets provides massed “airborne ISR and firepower anywhere across the battlefield in minimum time.”13 As demonstrated by the opening scenario, the USAF model responds to theater commander priorities by optimizing range, speed, and payload to deliver theater- wide effects. However, this construct often poses serious challenges for ground commanders.


The primary purpose of Army aviation is to support ground maneuver commanders and their objectives.14 The Army has found it difficult to keep up with the demands for ISR in the post-September 11th environment. In September 2007, Gen David H. Petraeus reported to Congress, “Unmanned aircraft have proven invaluable in Iraq.”15 As the Army transformed into a lighter, more technologically-reliant force, the capabilities UASs bring to the ground fight became vital.

Simultaneously, the USAF has increasingly failed to meet the Army’s growing UAS and ISR needs. This failure is due to both a lack of assets and the requirement to fulfill higher priority requests, such as special operations and TICs. Army Colonel James G. Rose, Commander of the Army Intelligence Center, observed, “Current and envisioned non-Army UAV systems are limited in their ability to provide responsive support to various requesting ground-maneuver units based on limited assets.”16 He further stated, “When units were successful in requesting UAV [Unnmanned Aerial Vehicle] support, communications problems, delays in data receipt, and retasking procedures/authority decreased the effectiveness and responsiveness of the UAV system.”17

The Army decided in 2004 to solicit bids for an Extended Range/Multi Purpose (ER/MP) UAS to replace the aging Hunter UAS and fulfill division commanders’ requirements for dedicated, reliable, and organically controlled ISR. The ER/MP Operational Requirements Document states, “This [UAS] limitation is multiplied by the supporting units’ lack of direct control and direct tasking authority over the UAV asset.”18 The Army contends that only division commander controlled UASs will be immune from last minute, higher priority taskings. The Army also strongly believes, based on success with smaller tactical UASs, that enlisted “operators” should fly these systems. Therefore, the only way to ensure they have it is to own and control it.

Issue Analysis

To find solutions to the contrasting USAF and Army UAS perspectives, one must consider both perspectives, as well as the following five contentious issues.

Command and Control

According to Air Force Basic Doctrine, centralized control and decentralized execution are critical to the employment of airpower because they “have been proven over decades of experience as the most effective and efficient means of employing air and space power.”19 The CAOC weapons system, as part of the Theater Air Control System (TACS), “provides operational-level C2 (Command and Control) of air and space forces” capable of coordinating thousands of sorties per day air campaigns.20

Historically, there has never been enough airpower and UASs are no exception. To gain the maximum capability with limited air assets, a single airman, the JFACC, should be responsible to the JFC for all airpower that is able to operate throughout the joint operations area.

The Army’s plan for the Joint Force Land Component Commander (JFLCC) is to have operational control (OPCON) of Sky Warrior. The JFLCC will delegate tactical control (TACON) to division and brigade level commanders. Predator, on the other hand, is OPCON and TACON to the JFACC for centralized tasking. The Army’s current plan is for each Army division commander to receive 12 Sky Warrior aircraft.21 This level of control explicitly prohibits the JFACC from using these assets for integrated JFC objectives; effectively stripping away many airpower strengths, such as range and speed, required for dynamic situations. After reviewing the current UAS situation, retired Army General Barry R. McCaffrey said, “We are confusing the joint battle space [sic] doctrine. Air Component Commanders should coordinate all UAV’s based on Combatant Commander situational war-fighting directives.”22 USAF ACC and the Army Training and Doctrine Center are developing a Predator and Sky Warrior Concept of Operations with a proposed compromise that would require ground commanders to give up excess organic UAS capacity to the JFACC, for centralized joint taskings.23 This plan is similar to the model used for both Navy and Marine Corps air assets. The Army and Air Force need to develop a truly joint interdependent solution that best meets the needs of the JFC.

Military leaders since World War I have tried various constructs to manage limited airpower assets—each with varying degrees of success. In the World War II North African battle at Kasserine Pass, the Germans decimated American ground forces. Army doctrine at the time tied airpower, as an auxiliary force, to the corps commanders. Airmen commonly used the phrase “penny packets . . . to describe the improper subdivision and parceling of airpower to ground forces.”24 This method turned out to be a major failure. While German planes attacked General George Patton’s troops “some fighters and bombers were not even tasked” to help out. The few Allied aircraft that did fly were unable to coordinate their efforts. British Air Marshal Arthur Coningham said, “The strength of airpower lies in its flexibility and capacity for rapid concentration.”25 Airpower did not arrive when ground commanders needed more air help than they could organically provide themselves. The ground commander’s inability to coordinate and mass airpower over the enemy caused the death of many soldiers. Air Marshal Coningham went on to say, “It follows that control must be centralized in an air commander and command exercised through Air Force channels; and air forces must be concentrated in use and not dispersed in penny packets.” Within three weeks of returning from Africa, “the War Department published Field Manual 100-20,” which declared, “The inherent flexibility of airpower is its greatest asset . . . Control of available airpower must be centralized and command must be exercised through the air force commander if this inherent flexibility and ability to deliver a decisive blow are to be exploited.”26 The success of the engagement phases of Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom demonstrated the lethality of joint airpower managed by a single Airman. The Army has a penchant for lessons learned, so it would be a travesty if they had to re-learn past lessons by “penny packeting” the Sky Warrior to division commanders.

Rated Pilots versus Operators

The most apparent divergence between the Army and USAF UAS models is the Army’s plan to fly the Sky Warrior with enlisted “operators.” The USAF contends only officer rated aviators should fly the Predator UAS. General Atomics has committed to incorporating new technology in to Sky Warrior that will reduce the Army’s need for pilots. These advances include an automatic takeoff-and-landing system, an automatic sense-and-avoid capability to help prevent mid-air collisions, and an improved, user-friendly ground control station. Additionally, the Army plans to reserve large volumes of airspace around their (non-pilot operated) unmanned aircraft to ensure safety. Simultaneously, the USAF is pushing increasingly complex upgrades to get more capacity out of its existing platforms, such as advanced weapons and the ability for one pilot to fly multiple aircraft. The current operational environment regularly requires UASs to fly within 1,000 feet of manned aircraft. The USAF handles this requirement through the skill and experience of its fully qualified pilots.27 As the joint community continues to demand greater coverage and increased capabilities from UASs, it will be increasingly important to have the most competent “pilots” flying them. So much so that in February 2008, the CSAF announced the standup of the UAS Weapons School at Nellis AFB to “produce UAS weapons officers.”28

Most important is a legal issue governing non-pilot operators flying UASs in both US and international airspace. According to the FAA, “A person may not act as pilot in command or in any other capacity as a required pilot flight crew member of a civil aircraft of the U.S. registry, unless that person has a valid pilot certificate.”29 Furthermore, “because the FAA has determined that UAS are civil aircraft . . . [they] must be operated by a pilot.”30 The rules are the same in foreign airspace. Annex 13 of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Convention states “UASs are aircraft,”31 thereby subject to the same rules and regulations as manned aircraft. For example, to fly above 18,000 feet in the United States, pilots must have an instrument rating (elsewhere the altitude varies by country). All USAF pilots maintain an instrument qualification, allowing them to fly above 18,000 feet. The CSAF cited the requirement for all USAF UAS pilots to be “credentialed” to fly anywhere in the world as one of his reasons for cancelling the Predator non-pilot test program.32 Both the FAA and ICAO have declared the rules are the same for UASs as for manned aircraft. The DoD and the JFC should honor these regulations for both flight safety and legitimacy reasons. A midair collision between a large UAS and a civilian airliner would have strategic repercussions for the joint fight.

Airspace Control and Deconfliction

UASs are making airspace control and aircraft deconfliction significantly more difficult in the joint air domain. A high- flying, long- loitering, and organically-controlled Army Sky Warrior vastly complicates the JFC’s and the JFACC’s limited and crowded airspace dilemma.

The proposed airspace control plan for Army organic UASs degrades the combat effectiveness of the joint force. The USAF TACS and the Army airspace command and control systems meet at a horizontal plane in the joint air domain called the “coordinating altitude” (see Figure 3). Recent combat operations have placed that altitude at 3,000 feet above the ground.33 All aircraft above the coordinating altitude are required to fly in a more centralized positive control manner, falling under the procedures and special instructions set by the JFACC.34 The newer, more capable Army UASs (like Sky Warrior) operate at much higher altitudes than traditional Army aviation assets. The Army’s desire to fly their non-centrally managed aircraft in the JFACC’s centrally managed airspace (above the coordinating altitude) is one of the major contentious issues degrading joint combat effectiveness.

ROZ and Coordinating Altitude Depiction

The Army solution to this airspace coordination issue is to create a ROZ around the UAS. As depicted in the Figure 3, a ROZ is typically a large cylinder of airspace, from the surface to an altitude safely above the UAS, restricted to other airspace users. This allows the Army to fly without using centralized positive control procedures. The negative side of this model is that it is an inefficient use of airspace that prevents airspace controllers from maintaining situational awareness within the ROZ, and makes it difficult for other air assets to navigate through the joint operational environment. According to joint doctrine “Efforts should be made to integrate UAVs with manned flight operations to enable a more flexible and adaptable airspace structure.”35 The use of a ROZ as an airspace control measure for UASs is a step backwards towards the days of independent and deconflicted operations, which lack the synergy that properly integrated airpower should bring to the joint fight.

Army organic UASs fail to integrate into the JFACC airspace plan, making air defense difficult. Historically the JFACC (or CAOC) has very little situational awareness of air operations below the coordinating altitude or inside the ROZs. Army organic aviation assets such as helicopters and UASs take off, land, and fly at the discretion of the ground maneuver commander. This disconnect with the JFACC fails to provide a common operational picture, making air defense virtually impossible—which has not historically been a problem due to air supremacy. In Iraq, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have killed more ground soldiers than any other threat—over 60% of the total.36 The inexpensive nature of UASs makes them a likely choice for airborne IEDs. To support the joint fight, the JFACC, as the designated Area Air Defense Commander, must be able to integrate all airborne assets into one system.

Service Interdependence

Joint interdependence is the best solution to allow the U.S. to win future wars in environment of significantly constrained resources. Lieutenant General David Deptula highlighted the progress thus far when he said, “Goldwater-Nichols helped move the American military from the independent, barely deconflicted operations of the early 1980s to the sustained interoperability that has proved so effective [today].”37 But it is time to make the next step to interdependence.

The JFC cannot afford to have two independent and barely deconflicted airspace control systems or two redundant, separately developed weapon systems. Joint doctrine states, “Joint interdependence is the purposeful reliance by one Service on another Service’s capabilities to maximize complementary and reinforcing effects.”38 Army Field Manual 1 says, “Joint interdependence allows each Service to divest itself of redundant functions . . . reduces unnecessary duplication of capabilities among the Services . . . to achieve greater efficiencies in their respective domains.”39 The current diverging plans for Predator and Sky Warrior do not follow joint interdependent principles.

The USAF’s repeated failure to meet the needs of the Army has reduced trust between the two services. The Army in-turn is scheduled to spend $1.02 billion to research, develop, test, train, and field the Sky Warrior UAS--a capability that already exists in the USAF.40 Meanwhile, the USAF simultaneously develops, trains, and fields a temporary force of Airmen to support the Army by performing traditional Army functions, such as guarding prisoners, driving convoys, and conducting civil affairs. The USAF has deployed over 22,000 Airmen since 2004 to perform such Army Functions.41 Congress has already initiated a comprehensive review of service roles and missions to determine if it is in the best interest of the country to have the Army build an air force while the USAF builds a small land force. Only a proactively-designed interdependent system will allow the American serviceman to deliver the efficient combat performance that American technology promises to deliver.

Deployment Footprint

An integral part of service interdependence lies in achieving greater efficiency by utilizing the expertise of each service.42 Flying theater-capable UASs from the U.S. is the best example of how USAF lessons learned from a fielded system promote efficiency through centralized control. According to USAF ACC, RSO is a force multiplier that provides a 200% increase in armed ISR capability to the JFC with no extra manning or aircraft. For example, without RSO, it takes 240 total aircrew (pilots and sensor operators) to sustain four combat air patrols in theater—80 deployed, 80 in garrison, and 80 in preparation for deployment.43 With RSO, ACC maintains four CAPs indefinitely with only 86 total aircrew—80 flying combat missions (while in garrison) and six deployed. RSO allows nearly 100% of trained crews to support the JFC indefinitely.

The Army system dedicates a Combat Aviation Brigade, including a Sky Warrior company, to each division in the traditional deployed manner—with only one third of the force deployed at a time.44 According to the USAF UAS Task Force, the JFC would receive an almost 100% increase in CAPs by applying the USAF RSO model to the planned Army Sky Warrior program. The current Sky Warrior plan would provide 21 CAPs to CENTCOM. By applying the RSO model, that number increases to 40 long-term sustainable CAPs.45

Army leaders argue that CAPs with Sky Warriors supporting the division commander would be more effective. An Army publication says, “Dedicated UAS at brigade level will increase effectiveness of operations by providing more responsive and more detailed reconnaissance.”46 The Army contends the method of requesting UAS support in the USAF centralized control method is too slow and carries too much risk of having the asset diverted to other priorities. They also feel RSO impacts effectiveness due to the communication degradation caused by the 8,000 miles between crews and ground commanders. Finally, they argue that in order to fight as a cohesive unit, the aircrew needs to deploy with the units they support to “feel” the intensity and tempo of the day-to-day fight.47

These concerns are warranted, however, it is unlikely the ground commander will be co-located with the UAS crews due to runway length requirements of Sky Warrior. The Army will require UAS communication methods similar to those the USAF uses today.


It is time for a comprehensive review of airpower management in the joint operational environment. The rapid proliferation of theater-capable UASs has brought this issue to a point that requires action. Realistically, the Army will not abandon the Sky Warrior program. Despite the negative impact on the joint operational environment, Sky Warrior and other (non-USAF) theater-capable UASs will proliferate. The Secretary of Defense (SecDef) must convey to the joint community a clear and achievable system that addresses the five contentious issues highlighted in this paper. Only then will the DoD maximize taxpayer dollars in a truly joint, efficient, and effective plan that meets the needs of both the Army and the JFC.
A Solution: The UAS Capability Envelope Model

UASs will continue to bring increased combat capabilities to the DoD. Both the Army and the USAF should continue to grow and develop their theater-capable UASs as fast as possible, with their respective sights set at opposite ends of the UAS complexity envelope (see Figure 4). The Army should develop its UAS force focused on the less complex, yet highest demand tasks found at the lower end of the spectrum (e.g., reconnaissance, communications relay, tracking cars, and lasing). The USAF should concentrate its efforts on the more complex requirements at the upper end of the envelope (e.g., strike, airborne forward air controller, multi-ship aircraft control). Additionally, the USAF should continuously expand its end of the envelope with the addition of highly complex UAS capabilities such as suppression of enemy air defenses, air-to-air engagement, and air refueling. This interdependent model provides maximum capability to the combatant commanders while capitalizing on the strengths and weaknesses of the respective services. In order to build this UAS capability envelope, the five contentious issues, discussed previously, must first be resolved.

 USAF and Army UAS Interdependence Model

Implementing these five recommendations would help resolve the contentious issues.

1 – Treat theater-capable Army UASs the same as other similarly capable fixed-wing manned aircraft (regardless of service). Systems such as Sky Warrior must operate under the same non-organic centralized control system as other JFACC air assets. The Army will still operate the systems and regularly support their own ground commanders taskings, but the JFACC would have situational awareness and retain retasking authority to capitalize on the strengths of centrally managed airpower. The division commanders can retain their smaller, less capable assets, but would have to compete for the theater-capable assets with the rest of the joint community. Demanding centralized control for all theater-capable aircraft is a feasible system if the Army can clearly articulate its required baseline requirements to the JFC.

2 – To resolve the “pilot” versus “operator” issue, all individuals responsible for controlling UASs must be “pilots” in the traditional sense. At a minimum, the Army UAS training plan must include training equivalent to a basic civilian pilot’s license. In addition, their pilots would require an instrument rating to fly at high altitude or in clouds. This policy would keep all aircraft flying in the joint operational environment legal and controlled by pilots, as was the case prior to Army UASs.

3 – The high-flying Army UASs (like Sky Warrior) must be actively managed by airspace controllers, instead of protected in the highly inefficient ROZs. The use of ROZs dedicates an inordinate amount of airspace to each aircraft and drastically complicates the JFACCs airspace plan. The joint community must make ROZs the exception instead of the rule.

4 – Service interdependence will result if the above four recommendations are adopted. If the two services focus their efforts on their respective ends of the UAS capability envelope, then a truly interdependent system will prevail. Only then will the aviation assets in the joint operational environment be able to satisfy the JFC aviation related objectives.

5 –The effective way to solve the Army’s demands for UASs in theater is to place more of them in the joint fight. Flying UASs from the US via the RSO system has tripled the number of USAF theater-capable assets available to the JFC. The Sky Warrior system should adopt the RSO model to provide the greatest capability to the joint environment.


Airmen and soldiers alike must put service rivalries aside and think creatively to solve today’s problems. The current UAS C2 system is not capable of handling a significant number of theater-capable UASs, flown by “operators,” in a decentralized manner, in airspace restricted to other air assets. The DoD must develop a single new interdependent system capable of maximizing the joint operational environment to fully utilize the potential of this new technology. The day the enemy starts flying remotely operated flying IEDs will be the first time in over fifty years that the Army will need to worry about enemy threats from the air. It would be a sad day if the US lost air superiority due to the services’ unwillingness to agree on one seamless model for the joint air domain.

Joint Publication-1 states, “The synergy that results from the operations of joint forces maximizes the capability of the force.”48 The proposed Army Sky Warrior model does not capitalize on jointness. We must resolve the five joint operational environment issues highlighted by the USAF Predator and the Army Sky Warrior comparison. The joint battlespace is starting to suffer, and it will only get worse. The Army and the USAF can no longer “agree to disagree” on the UAS issue, the risks to the joint fight are too high. The SecDef must make the tough decision that “going organic” with Army UASs is unhealthy for the joint operational environment.


1. Office of the Secretary of Defense, "Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007 - 2032," Office of Secretary of Defense OSD/Acquisition Technology and Logistics AT&L 2007, i, 2, 23, 109.

2.  Ibid., 23.

3.  Ibid, i.

4. Colonel Eric Mathewson, (432nd OG/CC, Creech AFB, NV), telephone interview by the author, 20 March 2008.

5. Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence, "Joint Concept of Operations for Unmanned Aircraft Systems," 2007, II-22.

6. Gen T. Michael Moseley, "Memorandum for Record for All MAJCOM CCs: Direction to Maximize UAS Capability."

7. According to Col Eric Mathewson, the 432 Operations Group Commander, it takes ten pilots and ten sensor operators to stand-up an additional CAP. During surge operations this number can be reduced to seven. The average USAF single seat fighter squadron has 20-25 pilots. Two seat fighters such as the F-15E have 20-25 of each crew member. Therefore, adding three CAPS requires 21-30 UAS pilots and 21-30 UAS sensor operators . . . the same number of aircrew as an entire fighter squadron.

8. Tom Vanden Brook, "Report: Insurgents Benefit from Drone Shortage," USA Today 25 Mar 2008. Mr. Dyke Weatherington, deputy director for Unmanned Warfare in OSD/AT&L announced the increase in ISR demand in an interview in Mar 2008.

9.  Col Eric Mathewson, “Predator 101” presentation, Creech AFB, NV; March 2008.

10.  General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, "Products and Services Website," (accessed 6 Mar 2008).
11.  Mathewson, interview.

12.  General T. Michael Moseley, "Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Synchronization," ed. USAF Chief of Staff (Department of the Air Force, 2006).

13.  Ibid.

14.  FM 1-100, Army Aviation Operations, 1997, 1-3.

15.  Institute of Land Warfare, "U.S. Army Aviation: Balancing Current and Future Demands," Torch Bearer National Security Report (Arlington, VA: Association of the United States Army, January 2008), 11.

16. James G. Rose, "Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operational Requirements Document (ORD)," 4.

17.  Ibid.

18.  Ibid.

19.  Air Force Doctrine Document 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 17 November 2003, 23.

20 Headquarters USAF/XOOY, "AFI 13-1AOC - Operational Procedures - Air and Space Operations Center," 1 Aug 2005, 5, 9.

21 Rose, "Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operational Requirements Document (ORD)," and also confirmed with an interview of Col Jeffrey T. Kappenman at HQ Army Aviation Center, Ft Rucker AL, 5 Mar 2008.

22. General Barry R. McCaffrey, "After Action Report--General Barry R. McCaffrey USA (Ret), Visit to Nellis and Scott AFB 14-17 August 2007," (accessed 5 April 2008)

23. Maj Matt Martin (ACC/A3YU Chief of Armed ISR Branch), interview by the author, 4 March 2008.

24. Dr. Rebecca Grant, "Up from Kasserine Pass," Air Force Association Magazine, Sept 2007, 76.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid, 78.

27. The author regularly flew 1000 feet above or below other manned aircraft, while flying over 750 hours of Predator time in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In the busiest airspace, this altitude buffer sometimes was only 500 feet.

28. Moseley, "Memorandum for Record for All MAJCOM CCs: Direction to Maximize UAS Capability."

29. Federal Aviation Administration Website, "Operating UASs - Questions and Answers,"

30. Ibid.

31 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), "Addressing Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Accident Investigation and Prevention by ICAO Member States," (accessed 4 April 2008).

32. Col Jeffrey Eggers (HQ AF/A3-5), forwarded email from Maj Gen Goldfein (ACC/CV) dated 16 Nov 2006, 10 April 2008.

33. HQ Air Force Doctrine Development and Education Center, "Doctrine Watch #22: Unmanned Aircraft (UA) and Airspace Control in the Combat Zone," 17 Jan 2006,

34. Ibid

35. Joint Publication 3-52, Joint Doctrine for Airspace Control in the Combat Zone, 30 Aug 2004, III-6.

36. Office of the Secretary of Defense, "Global War on Terrorism -- Casualties by Reason," (accessed 5 April 2008).

37. Lt Gen David A. Deptula, "On Restructuring National Security," Strategic Studies Quarterly 1, no. 2 (2007): 5.

38. Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the Unites States 2007, I-2.

39. Army Field Manual (FM) 1, Army Forces in Unified Action, 14 June 2005, 3-II.

40. Rose, "Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operational Requirements Document (ORD)," 52.

41. House Armed Services Committee, In-Lieu-of Tasking (ILO) by Brig General Marke Gibson (AF/A3O), 31 July 2007, (accessed 4 Apr 2008)

42. FM 1, Army Forces in Unified Action, 2005, 275.

43. Capt Kathryn Nelson (ACC/A8U1), email and interview “Predator-Reaper 101 Briefing” on 17 March 2008.

44. Institute of Land Warfare, "U.S. Army Aviation: Balancing Current and Future Demands," 7.

45. Nelson, email and interview.

46. Institute of Land Warfare - Association of the United States Army, "U.S. Army Aviation: Balancing Current and Future Demands," 22.

47. Information gathered at an interview with Army intelligence and aviation personnel at Ft Rucker Alabama on 6 Mar 2008.

48. Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the Unites States, I-2.


Major Travis “Flare” Burdine Major Travis “Flare” Burdine, USAF (BS, USAFA) is a senior pilot with over 2,500 flying hours in E-3 AWACS and over 750 hours in the MQ-1B Predator. Prior to attending Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), he served as the first Chief of Group Standardization and Evaluation for the United States Air Force’s first UAS wing, the 432d Wing at Creech AFB, Nevada. After graduation from ACSC, he was assigned to the HQ USAF Air Staff in Washington D.C. to be the functional manager and subject matter expert for Predator and Reaper systems on the UAS Task Force.

Disclaimer : The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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