Pentagon rejects Air Force bid to control UAV programs

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England has rejected Air Force efforts to become the executive agent for all medium- and high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, ending an unusually public interservice spat over whether one branch of the military should have far-reaching authority over the drones.

England's decision, outlined in a Thursday memo to senior defense and military officials, came after an intense push within the Air Force to oversee all unmanned aerial vehicles that fly above 3,500 feet. Air Force officials argued that doing so would eliminate duplication of efforts between the services on similar drone programs and potentially reduce research, development and procurement costs.

The other services viewed the Air Force's efforts as a power grab and vociferously objected, stating that they feared giving up their buying power over their UAV programs would result in systems that do not meet their specific needs.

In his memo, England directed the Pentagon's acquisition office to create a task force on UAV issues -- a move that will "enhance operations, enable interdependencies, and streamline acquisition" of the drones. He also directed Pentagon officials to take other steps to foster cross-service collaboration on the UAV programs.

The Air Force's campaign drew mixed reactions on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have tried to referee the fight. In the report accompanying the House-passed version of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill, lawmakers required senior Pentagon officials to review all UAV capabilities and determine whether designating a military department as an executive agent would help eliminate unnecessary duplication of effort and improve UAV interoperability and commonality between the services.

The Senate Armed Services Committee acknowledged in its report on the authorization bill that the Air Force has "raised a legitimate issue," but said it "wants to ensure that all pertinent aspects of the issue are considered." As their colleagues in the House did, members of the Senate panel said they expected a "careful study of the issue."

The news of England's decision did draw immediate praise from members of the Alabama delegation, whose state is home to the Army's UAV Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker. "It makes sense that the men and women who directly depend on UAV support for their mission's success have a say in how those systems are designed and operated," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who sits on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said a recent trip to Iraq only further proved his belief that the Army should retain control of its UAV programs.

Shelby helped insert language in the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill that would prohibit the Defense Department from transferring any research and development, acquisition or program authority for the Army's fleet of tactical UAVs away from the Army. Calls seeking comment from Air Force officials were not returned by presstime.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.