The US military plans development of newer drones and other aircraft intended to deal with its ‘changing security threats’ and greater focus on Asia as its troop drawdown from Afghanistan gets underway.
Pentagon’s new focus on Asia would demand “a new mix of drones and other aircraft” since nations in the region are better capable of detecting and shooting down American assassination and spying drones, AP reports Tuesday citing senior US military commanders. The plan, however, will not affect CIA’s terror drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
Commander of US Air Combat Command Gen. Mike Hostage underlined in an interview that the new focus of the American military on the Asia-Pacific region will require a different mix of aircraft, raising fears that unlike Afghanistan and Pakistan, where US assassination drones operated without worry of being shot down, some nations in the pacific are well capable of challenging US war planes, whether manned or unmanned.
Although the US commander did not elaborate about any specific or potential threat, a number of America’s spy drones, including the most sophisticated RQ-170 model, have been captured by Iran in past months while violating the country’s air-space.
Gen. Hostage further expressed concerns about the US military’s ability to continue maintaining the current number of American drones conducting surveillance and terror missions overseas, saying that senior Pentagon officials are analyzing, and for the first time considering slashing, “the massive buildup of drones” over the past years in a bid to save money and adapt to changing security threats.
The report further cites US Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Lt. Gen. Larry James as saying that a key part the decision to scale back the drone production will involve reconsiderations on what types of drones and other aircraft will the Pentagon need as it switches focus on the Pacific.
According to the report, the growing US concentration on Asia-Pacific reflects an intensifying “strategic concern” over China's emergence as a major military power, amid persisting disputes over Taiwan and contested islands in the south and east China seas.
This is while Pentagon’s overall spending on drones has surged from USD284 million in the year 2000 to nearly USD4 billion in the past fiscal year, while the number of drones owned by the Pentagon has soared “from less than 200 in 2002 to at least 7,500 now,” the report adds.
The CIA, however, maintains its own fleet of assassination and spying drones, which it uses to conduct what it claims as “counterterror missions,” and any decision by the US military to halt the drone buildup would likely have no impact on the spy agency’s drone operations.
There has been a major surge in US assassination drone strikes in Muslim countries in Asia and North Africa since Barack Obama assumed US presidency in 2009. The attacks have reportedly caused thousands of civilian casualties, prompting popular outrage in targeted nations.