The Pentagon Plans for More Drones in More Places
Documents reveal scheme to expand robot infrastructure
Last week, the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command announced a contract bid request for what it calls “Unmanned Aircraft System Operations Center Support,” or UASOCS.
Regardless of anything you might have heard to the contrary and despite Pentagon budget cuts, the announcement strongly suggests the United States will continue to expand its drone operations in coming years.
The UASOCS contract would hire contractors to help maintain communications hubs in the U.S. and around the world. The civilians would help manage the networks and “provide [a] help desk function” in case something breaks.
Some of the contract documents outline the work at so-called “reach-back sites” abroad. These facilities relay satellite signals between the States and secretive drone bases around the world.
We know that the Pentagon has had overseas robot bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Djibouti, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Niger, Italy, Guam, Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the Seychelles, among other countries.
The reach-back sites are “critical” to the drone effort and “require 24/7/365 on-site coverage,” according to the documents. These communications nodes connect the myriad players in the flying branch’s robot campaign to each other.
This reach-back is also vital to so-called “remote split operations.” What this means is that overseas personnel launch the drones, but then hand over control to pilots back in the U.S.
Civilian contractors would also be working in operations centers and other facilities at five U.S. bases. Most of the domestic work would take place at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the nerve center for Air Force drone efforts.
The announcement clearly states that it’s just for “market research”—and the attached documents are only drafts. However, the posting also says this isn’t the first contract for UASOCS work.
The reach-back site at Ramstein air base in Germany is relatively well known. According to the UASOCS documents, the site in Germany is actually two sites, called EUR-1A and EUR-1B.
We don’t know why this is the case, but it probably has to do with how the Pentagon divides up the globe. One facility likely handles operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, while the other deals with operations in Africa.
The documents describe a plan to shut down EUR-1A this year and replace it with a new site called EUR-2 in “Southern Europe.” Italy will likely host the new facility.
Washington has been spending millions of dollars to expand bases in Italy. EUR-2 will likely focus on Africa, where the U.S. has a growing number of secretive drone outposts.
The work in Europe doesn’t mean that the Pacific region gets nothing. The U.S. currently operates a reach-back site at Kadena air base in Japan called PAC-1.
The documents also say the Pentagon wants to set up a new site somewhere else in the Pacific by the end of 2015. With PAC-1 covering the northern flank, PAC-2 could focus on drone flights over the South China Sea.
The plans to build new reach-back sites are just more evidence of the continued importance of aerial robots in the Pentagon’s battle plans. The individual branches are also focusing more on drones.
For instance, the Air Force wants to retire the U-2 manned spy plane in favor of the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, pictured. The Navy is getting its new MQ-4C Triton, as well.
If these trends continue, we can definitely expect to see more American drones in more places in next few years—along with the communication hubs to keep them flying.