WASHINGTON — The use of unmanned aircraft in Iraq has surged by nearly one-third since the buildup of U.S. forces began early this year, and drones are now racking up more than 14,000 hours a month in the battlefield skies.
The increase in unmanned aircraft — from high-altitude Global Hawks to short-range reconnaissance Ravens [shown] that soldiers fling into the air — has fueled a struggle among the military services over who will control their use and the more than $12 billion that will be spent on the programs over the next five years.
The Air Force wants to take over development and purchasing of unmanned aerial vehicles, arguing that it would save money and improve technology and communications.
It also wants more centralized command of the drones, saying better coordination could eliminate airspace conflicts that can endanger U.S. troops.
The other military services see a power grab, and they’re fighting it.
A little more than a year ago, about 700 unmanned aircraft were operating in Iraq. By last December, according to Army data, that number had grown to about 950, and it’s soon expected to hit 1,250.
At least 500 are the smaller Ravens that are used by the Army. The rest include Hunters and Shadows — the Army’s medium-altitude aircraft that can carry weapons — as well as the Air Force Predators, which are also armed. Larger Global Hawks are used for high-tech surveillance
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