U.S. Army and Air Force quibbling over their use of Predator drones led to yet another obscene waste of Pentagon funding to the tune of half a billion dollars, according to a report released to The Intercept nearly five years after a FOIA request was originally submitted.
An effort to combine the two military branches’ Predator drone programs had the potential to save the Pentagon around $400 million. But as the Inspector General announced in the 2010 report after a year of research costing $115 million, between 2008-2009 the Army and Air Force simply could not overcome their bitter rivalry enough to implement a joint purchasing program — of the same drone.
Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense in 2008, claimed that convincing the Air Force to deploy drones to give support in Iraq and Afghanistan was akin to “pulling teeth.” This “turf war,” as The Intercept called it, developed after the Army criticized the Air Force for its lackadaisical support of ground troops and the Air Force publicly called out the Army’s ineptitude in operating drones — even publicly calling the program “a house of cards”characterized by “substantial shortfalls.”
Under its program, the Army proceeded to purchase its own Predator drones, which conducted operations in fundamentally different ways than the other branch. Where Air Force drone pilots generally guided drones from locations as far removed from the actual field of battle as the U.S., Army pilots did the opposite and operated close to where military action was occurring. And though both branches used Predators, the Air Force drones were powered by jet fuel and the Army’s by heavy fuel.
So the Pentagon demanded the programs be integrated to save money, considering both involved the purchase of essentially the same drone from the same company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Rather than work with its bitter rival, the Air Force simply stopped buying the Predator drone in favor of its larger cousin, the Reaper.
While it seems there should have been some form of administrative backlash for going against the orders to combine efforts, as Sen. Chuck Grassley noted, the audit that had already taken almost two years to complete was made somewhat meaningless by a failure to enforce the recommendations. “While the audit was in progress, DoD pulled the rug out from under the auditors,” the senator said in a floor statement about the continued review of the audits in 2011. “A new directive was issued, stating that the two programs did not have to be combined.”
Even further to the point, combining the two branches’ programs might have been a ‘pie in the sky’ project from its inception, as former military analyst Chuck Spinney explained, “[T]he claim that you could save money by combining them flies in the face of history.” Each branch of service needs myriad modifications to the point that past joint programs, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, don’t end up with any noteworthy savings to make them worthwhile.
What this boondoggle may come down to is the Army’s desire to emulate its rival, and that no tangible reason for them having a Predator program existed. As military analyst William Arkin told The Intercept, “The Army in the end just wanted to be more like the Air Force, more capable of targeted killing.”
Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include social justice, police brutality, exposing the truth behind propaganda, and general government accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Ohio. Learn more about Bernish here!