ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 30 (UPI) -- The Pentagon has stopped short of aiding the Pakistani military with armed unmanned aircraft saying it will press ahead with designs to deliver a fleet of U.S.-made unarmed drones to Pakistan.
Although a clear timetable for delivery hasn't been set, an anonymous Pentagon official told AOL News that the delivery would be made "within a year."
The decision to provide Islamabad with at least 12 Shadow drones, rests with Washington's decision to bolster Pakistan's ability to track militant insurgents along its rugged frontiers with Afghanistan.
Since that decision was announced in January, Pentagon officials have been in talks with their counterparts in Islamabad, deliberating over the model and number of drones to be dispatched to Pakistan.
"I would like to think that we would get them there within a year but quantity and so forth, I think, will depend on what are the right ones and how many make sense for the fight that they're in," the Pentagon official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, was quoted saying by Defense News.
The proposed Shadow drones, smaller than the armed Predator and Reaper aircraft, are about 11 feet long and have a wingspan of 14 feet. They feed video images to ground operators from the sensors and cameras mounted on the drones.
Unlike the Predator, the Shadow drones don't have missile capabilities to strike the targets they observe. Still, experts say, they represent the technological advancement in the growing U.S. military relationship with Pakistan.
While the United States has shared drone technology with allies, it has a controlled policy is sharing such hardware in volatile parts of the world.
U.S. officials have suggested that Pakistan also invest in specialized training to exploit the sophisticated hardware soon to be injected into its military.
The number of surveillance drones that the United States would eventually supply Pakistan with would hinge on the cost of the model to be chosen, the Pentagon official said.
"A key factor will be how quickly we can get the capabilities to them," the official said.
The Pakistani military is already using home-made drones for surveillance of Islamist extremists fighting along its borders. Those drones, however, are significantly behind the technologically superior U.S. models, military experts in Pakistan and the United States concede.
Drones have proven a vital asset for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a U.S. Senate hearing last week he was advancing drone technology among allies despite limitations in exports spawning from an international pact called the Missile Technology Control Regime.