For those of you watching the news today, the big story coming out of both Theaters is the Iranian-backed (or more likely: Iranian-led) interception of data-downlinks from aerial assets. According to the Wall Street Journal, insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan used a software program designed in Russia called SkyGrabber that was originally intended to intercept multimedia files over wireless computer networks. This is not surprising. Iranian-supported insurgents have been far more advanced than their Sunni adversaries for quite a while. As we move forward with future generations of unmanned platforms and supporting hardware/software, DoD (and specifically the USAF) must address specific shortcomings in bandwidth and downlink rates.
There has been a lot of news and blog chatter about the “new” RQ-170 Sentinel over the last week or so, the Air Force’s first stealth and jet-propulsion unmanned platform. This thing is pretty choice. I’m all for strategic assets, but the reality is that there is a tremendous shortage of UAS at the tactical level. The USAF loves the big, cool new toys, and they are cool, but I shudder to think how many Predators could have been bought for the same amount of money that one of these Sentinels cost. Hopefully this serves as a wakeup call to the Army that the Air Force is not nearly as interested in aerial support to tactical-level elements as they think.
My recommendation? Form Tactical UAS Companies inside Special Troops Battalions within BCTs that are autonomous from the current MICOs. Task organize the Company so that each maneuver Battalion gets one UAS Shadow Platoon. Move something like the i-GNAT down to support BCT-level Commanders, and give each Division headquarters its own Army-driven Predator. I’ll expand on this topic with a full post in the near future after additional research. For now I’d like to open this up for discussion with readers. Thoughts?