A task force looking for ways to get more ISR assets into the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan will be looking at “the inventory of what we have and can we get it over there,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a Pentagon press conference April 23. Gates said he wants all the services to see if there are different ways of doing ISR training, so “maybe we can squeeze a little bit more” of them into the battle zone. He wants the task force—to be headed by Brad Berkson, the Pentagon’s Program Analysis and Evaluation chief—to look at manned aircraft as well as unmanned and to “see what we have in the other commands here in the United States.” After taking inventory, the task force will go to the theater and see if the users “are making maximum possible use of the assets they have.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell later told the Daily Report Gates wants more unconventional ideas and a willingness to shrug off habits that could be slowing the addition of ISR assets to the war zones. Specifically, Morrell said Gates is unconvinced that UAVs must be operated by pilots, which USAF says is necessary to operate safely in busy airspace. Other services don’t agree, he said. It takes a year to train a pilot, and USAF has a limited supply of them. Gates said that “in too many instances, there is a tendency to look out a year or two years or three years in terms of programs and … processes as usual and not enough willingness to think out of the box and how do we get more help to the theater now.” Morrell said Gates wants the services to think “beyond Predator and Reaper” and consider quick and dirty ideas like putting “sensors on a Cessna.” Gates wants the new task force to make an initial report in just a week and to develop a plan within 90 days. Gates said. “I’ve found that perhaps the most effective way to get things done around here is to put pretty short deadlines on things.”
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.