Army Reaches 1 Million Unmanned Flight Hours
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
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 photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
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.