The United States plans to expand the number of drone flights over the next four years in an effort to gain greater firepower and more intelligence in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, South China, and North Africa, a report says.
Citing defense officials, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the daily drone flights would be increased by 50 percent to broaden surveillance and intelligence collection in the countries.
The plan, which would unfold in September, calls for expanding the current number of daily drone flights from 61 to as many as 90 by 2019, according to the Journal.
Drones such as the MQ-1 Predator and its newer, longer-range cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, provide real-time video to commanders and intelligence analysts who use the data to track and target militants and conduct surveillance operations, officials said.
The program, the first significant expansion of the Pentagon’s drone program since 2011, would also increase the capacity for lethal airstrikes, the report said.
The Pentagon plans a combined effort to have the Air Force fly 60 drone flights a day by 2019, with the Army contributing as many as 16 and the military’s Special Forces Command pitching in with as many as four.
Government contractors would also be hired to fly older Predator drones as many as 10 times a day. According to the report, none of the drones would conduct strike missions.
Chris Karns, an Air Force spokesman, said, “There will always be a strong demand” for military drone work, given emerging threats and world events.
The head of US European Command, General Philip Breedlove, complained this year that he needed more coverage to adequately monitor his assigned region, which includes the conflict in Ukraine.
“Earlier indications and warning and the ability to better understand Moscow’s thinking and intent are absolutely critical for avoiding future surprise and miscalculation, for deterring effectively and for preparing to respond if required,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter agreed to let the Air Force reduce its drone flights from 65 to 60 a day by October.
Defense officials, however, said the Pentagon chief agreed only if military planners could provide more drone capability using other resources.
The United States has been conducting targeted killings through remotely-controlled armed drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere.
The strikes have killed more than 3,000 people, according to estimates by nonpartisan groups