The Pentagon plans to dramatically increase the number of U.S. drone flights by 2019, reveals a senior defense official.
Within the next four years, the Pentagon is aiming for a 50 percent increase in daily drone flights, which allow military commanders to access more intelligence and firepower to "keep up with a sprouting number of global hot spots."
At the same time, the 50 percent increase in the number of daily drone flights would extend the collection of surveillance and intelligence data in areas such as Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, North Africa and the South China Sea, a senior defense official exclusively told the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. drone program has not seen a significant boost since 2011, but military efforts now have to keep up with a "cascading series of global crises."
The Pentagon plans to increase not only surveillance but also the capacity of the U.S. drone program's most controversial aspect: lethal airstrikes. So far, nonpartisan groups have estimated that strikes by unmanned aircraft have resulted in the death of at least 3,000 people, noted the WSJ.
The publication further pointed out that the Air Force currently flies most of the drone flights in the U.S., including secret operations for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Yemen and Pakistan, but the new strategy will also involve the Army, Special Operations Command and government contractors.
By 2019, the Pentagon wants to increase the number of daily flights from 61 to 90. The Air Force will keep handling around 60 drone flights per day, while the Army will conduct between 10 and 20 and the Special Operations Command will account for up to 10 more. Contractors will also conduct up to 10 other daily flights, all unarmed.
Drones such as the MQ-1 and MQ-9 Reaper (pictured above) allow commanders and intelligence analysts to leverage real-time video and use the data for surveillance purposes, as well as to track and target militants. Increasing the number of daily drone flights should also translate to a more extensive collection of surveillance video, which in turn would require an additional number of intelligence analysts.
Unmanned aircraft in the U.S. started conducting surveillance and intelligence missions back in 2004, when it handled only five drone flights per day. That number has significantly increased over the past decade, and it will grow even further in the years to come, as the newly revealed plans confirm.