One defense official offers another option on the Blue Devil 1 issue, however. Perhaps the functionality of Blue Devil 1 can be provided by another platform, he says. He declined to be identified owing to the sensitivity of the subject and secrecy of budget discussions.
This official notes that many of the capabilities are now employed on the Predator/Reaper fleet. And, with some processing and exploitation tools and training, the growing fleet of these UAS might be able to address the need. And, he notes, these fleets have on-station durations of a day or more, whereas the manned King Air 90s are limited to 4-5 hr. on station with down time for refueling and crew changes.
The Air Force is already struggling with the idea of what to do with its fleet of these UAS after the war. Gates publicly chided the Air Force for not reaching his desired 50 combat air patrols (CAP) of Predator/Reapers and then upped the requirement to 65 on his way out of office in July 2011.
“No offense to Dr. Gates. There was no intellectual rigor to the number 65. It was a challenge goal: You got 50? Good for you. Now get me 65,” Hostage said, adding the Air Force has now fielded 60 CAPs. “In terms of a sustainable force structure and a force structure relevant to the world I have to face, it [65 CAPs] is the wrong answer. So, there is a very deep intellectual debate ongoing right now on what is the right mix of capability . . . that I need for the future. I can tell you without a shred of doubt that my current number—I'm at 60 CAPS now—iis too many.”
Hostage acknowledges that the Predators and Reapers are and continue to be valuable in the hunt for terrorists and in supporting soldiers in Afghanistan and other hot spots. But, his concern is how suitable this fleet will be for a future in which permissive airspace is not the norm. “I have more capability in the permissive environment than I know I can keep,” he says. Sixty-five CAPs “was a requirement we met, but it is not in the grand scheme of things an enduring capability.”
“It is not in the panoply of things that we want to keep.”