The use of unmanned aerial vehicles has been a favored tool of the Obama administration in counterterrorism operations across the globe. There are clear benefits to these advanced platforms –near constant surveillance of a target and ability to strike while conducting surveillance operations, all while operators sit safely thousands of miles away. However, there are also clear deficiencies – among them, that their slow speeds make them distinctly susceptible to anti-aircraft capabilities. That might not have been a problem against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but it would be if the adversary is a nation state.
As the military moves to transition to emerging threats in addition to continued counterterrorism missions, more tools are needed than these seemingly do-it-all devices. “China and Russia, especially Russia, they’re not sitting back,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Linda R. Urrutia-Varhall, assistant deputy chief of Staff, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, said at a recent luncheon hosted by AFCEA NOVA. With regard to Russia’s recent increased activity in Syria, Urrutia-Varhall said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “knocking on the door” to make its military capability presence known.