An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle comes in for a landing at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Reapers are remotely piloted and can linger over battlefields, providing persistent strike capabilities to ground force commanders. File Photo by UPI/Erik Gudmundson/U.S. Air Force | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The number of U.S. military and intelligence daily drone flights will be increased by 50 percent in coming years, a senior Pentagon official said.
It is the first significant increase in drone use since 2011 and reflects the value of drones, for information-gathering as well as for lethal airstrikes, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Strikes by the unmanned aircraft have killed at least 3,000 people, non-governmental organizations have estimated.
The plan, as explained by the Pentagon official, will expand drone use in locations including Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, North Africa and the South China Sea. While most drones are currently in use by the U.S. Air Force, the Army, Special Operations Command and private contractors will be involved in the expanded use of drones.
The Pentagon plan envisions flights, which it calls combat air patrols, to expand from 61 per day to as many as 90 per day by 2019, largely for additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In April, Gen. Philip Breedlove, chief of the U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee more coverage of territory by surveillance drones was required.
"Earlier indications and warning and the ability to better understand Moscow's thinking and intent are absolutely critical for avoiding future surprise and miscalculation, for deterring effectively and for preparing to respond if required," he said.
Use of drones by the United States, widely expanded under the Obama administration, has been the target of critics who claim drone attacks have killed many innocent civilians.