The UAV Advantage

The Air Force’s buildup of unmanned aerial vehicles in the US Central Command area of responsibility has had a wide ranging effect on insurgent activity, particularly in Afghanistan, US Air Forces Central’s director of intelligence told defense reporters Thursday during a Pentagon bloggers roundtable. Col. Eric Holdaway said that since the early part of 2007, the overhead intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability the Air Force has deployed has increased by 150 percent in Iraq and 200 percent in Afghanistan. He said, too, that the infusion of stateside Air National Guard airmen into the exploitation and dissemination mission has been a “tremendous” benefit in getting sensor information to the fight as quickly as possible. The MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers not only provide long loiter time and weapons for attack against time-sensitive targets, but also take away an adversary’s weather advantage. Holdaway said the bad weather in Afghanistan is no boon to insurgents because “we still see these guys come out.” Unfortunately, he said, the Taliban haven’t been able to take out coalition airpower, so some commanders have turned to using “noncombatants as human shields.” You could almost call it “Taliban air defense,” Holdaway said. And that makes the sensors and tracking capabilities of UAVs even more important, since many involve troops-in-contact situations where enemy fighters stage near civilians. Holdaway said that in these situations “typically we can afford to be patient. … [We can] keep working on the target and eventually get another opportunity.”