Pentagon pleads with Congress for more drone money
The Defense Department proposed a shift in as much as $641 million in funding on Monday, which, if approved, would move finances used for other Pentagon programs towards America’s intelligence and surveillance missions in Afghanistan, Bloomberg News reports.
The United States is currently in the midst of preparing to formally end its war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and focusing more money on unmanned aerial vehicles will allow US troops to conduct missions, both surveillance and combat, remotely.
Bloomberg reports that if Congress approves their request, the Pentagon hopes to put around $94.2 million towards Boeing-made ScanEagle drones, a small, 40-pound drone with a mere 10-foot wingspan that can soar for as long as 48 hours at a time at altitudes of 5,000 meters. Bloomberg adds that the aircraft were instrumental in monitoring hostages being held by Somali pirates in 2009, and Boeing itself touts the small UAV as idea for being launched off water-bound ships. If the Pentagon’s proposal is accepted, six command centers in Iraq would be relocated to Afghanistan and Navy SEALs would see their ground stations double from four to eight.
The request comes only days after the Pentagon asked Congress to push $8.2 billion in DoD funding to other endeavors. In this instance, the $641 million would be moved from accounts tied to funding contract negotiations and unclassified military intelligence accounts, and would even pull from money put aside from the now defunct war in Iraq.
According to the request, increasing ScanEagle operations in Afghanistan would assist in efforts “aimed at building an enduring, self-reliant Afghani general population able to resist insurgent” threats. Although US President Barack Obama has repeatedly called to expedite America’s combat missions in Afghanistan, the last year has been marred by a series of violent episodes between forces. Even as America approached the ten-year anniversary of its war in Afghanistan, last August went in the record books as the deadliest month for US troops after 66 servicemen were killed.
Although the ScanEagle is among the smaller of the UAVs used by the military, researchers are currently working on another unmanned drone aircraft nearly that will be powered by the smallest supersonic jet engine ever made. Forbes reports this week that researchers at the University of Colorado are hard at work on putting together a space age engine that will help boost a UAV that is only 7-feet long.