USA — Army Reaches 1 Million Unmanned Flight Hours

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2010 — The Army today cel­e­brat­ed its recent attain­ment of 1 mil­lion hours of unmanned flight with an air­craft dis­play and news con­fer­ence at the Pentagon’s court­yard.

Army Col. Gre­go­ry B. Gon­za­lez, project man­ag­er for unmanned air­craft sys­tems at Red­stone Arse­nal, Ala., answers ques­tions at a news con­fer­ence held in the Pentagon’s court­yard May 25, 2010. The news con­fer­ence was part of the Army’s cel­e­bra­tion of 1 mil­lion unmanned flight hours.
DoD pho­to by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Car­den
Click to enlarge

The mile­stone offi­cial­ly was reached April 14 with mis­sions flown in the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand area of oper­a­tions.

“Today we cel­e­brate a major mile­stone,” Army Col. Gre­go­ry B. Gon­za­lez, project man­ag­er for unmanned air­craft sys­tems at Red­stone Arse­nal, Ala., told reporters. “This is a tremen­dous accom­plish­ment, but it’s even more astound­ing when one con­sid­ers how quick­ly the Army achieved this.”

Just 13 air­craft were deployed in sup­port of oper­a­tions at the begin­ning of the Iraq war in March 2003. Today, 333 types of unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems — with more than 1,000 air­craft – are fly­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gon­za­lez said.

It took 13 years to fly the first 100,000 hours and less than a year to fly the next 100,000, the colonel said. In the past two years alone, he added, the Army has flown more than 500,000 hours.

Despite ear­ly skep­ti­cism and doubt, Gon­za­lez said, accep­tance of unmanned sys­tems quick­ly became a demand as ground com­man­ders incor­po­rat­ed those air­craft in sup­port of all aspects of Army oper­a­tions.

Ground com­man­ders depend on the unmanned sys­tems to be their “eyes and ears” on the bat­tle­field, he added, pro­vid­ing troops with near-real-time imagery and infor­ma­tion for tar­get­ed areas while plan­ning mis­sions as well as for inform­ing troops of ene­my activ­i­ty in their area.

Though 1 mil­lion hours is impres­sive, Gon­za­lez said, the most notable accom­plish­ment is what those hours rep­re­sent.

“Each hour rep­re­sents not just time, but time well spent,” he said. “[Unmanned] flight hours rep­re­sent time well spent keep­ing sol­diers safe, find­ing and killing our ene­my, and col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion that will lead to future suc­cess­es. That num­ber rep­re­sents efforts to bring home our Amer­i­can sons and daugh­ters safe­ly after a deploy­ment.”

Though the 1 mil­lionth flight hour was met with much antic­i­pa­tion and excite­ment, Gon­za­lez said, the Army con­tin­ues focus­ing on the future, improv­ing capa­bil­i­ties and field­ing new sys­tems. Cur­rent­ly in the works are upgrades to sev­er­al sys­tems, includ­ing the Raven and Shad­ow sys­tems. Also, an addi­tion­al pla­toon of sol­diers with extend­ed-range, mul­ti­pur­pose sys­tems is slat­ed to deploy to Afghanistan this sum­mer to pro­vide quick-reac­tion capa­bil­i­ties for ground troops in com­bat, the colonel said.

Oth­er short-term advances in the works include sig­nif­i­cant advances through­out the Army’s fleet, includ­ing increased inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, data link, full-motion video encryp­tion, and per­for­mance and reli­a­bil­i­ty improve­ments, the colonel said.

“It is our duty to pro­vide [troops] the most effec­tive and effi­cient use of our nation’s resources,” he added. “As quan­ti­ties and field­ed sys­tems increase and we improve capa­bil­i­ties, the abil­i­ty to sup­port the warfight­er will increase. More [unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems] in the fight means more time ded­i­cat­ed to sup­port for our sol­diers.”

As of April 14, the Army had flown 1,002,731 unmanned aer­i­al sys­tem hours, near­ly 90 per­cent of that time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army cur­rent­ly records about 25,000 flight hours each month in the two coun­tries.

The air­craft dis­play here includ­ed a MQ-1C extend­ed-range, mul­ti­pur­pose sys­tem, a Shad­ow sys­tem with launch­er, a Raven sys­tem and a ground con­trol sta­tion. Mil­i­tary mem­bers and defense civil­ians toured the dis­play and received a glimpse of the tech­nol­o­gy that’s sav­ing lives on the bat­tle­field.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)