NEW YORK: The Pentagon plans to sharply expand the number of US drone flights over the next four years, giving military commanders access to more intelligence and greater firepower to keep up with a sprouting number of global hot spots, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday quoting senior US officials.

The plan to increase by 50 per cent the number of daily drone flights would broaden surveillance and intelligence collection in such locales as Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, the South China Sea and North Africa, said the official, who provided exclusive details of the plan to The Wall Street Journal.

It would be the first significant increase in the US drone programme since 2011, reflecting pressure on military efforts to address a cascading series of global crises,the newspaper said.

While expanding surveillance, the Pentagon plan also grows the capacity for lethal airstrikes, the most controversial part of the US drone programme.

Pakistan, it may be pointed out has always officially opposed drone operations into Pakistan over period of time.

The US Air Force now flies most of the drone flights, including secret missions for the Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan and Yemen. But the new plan would draw on the army, as well as Special Operations Command and government contractors, the WSJ said.

Earlier this year, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter agreed to let the Air Force reduce its drone flights from 65 to 60 a day by October. Defence officials said Mr Carter agreed only if military planners could wring more drone capability using other resources.

“There will always be a strong demand” for military drone work, given emerging threats and world events, said Lt. Col. Chris Karns, an Air Force spokesman.

One of the problems facing the Defence Department is that it must share intelligence feeds: The military contributes as many as 22 of its 61 daily flights to the CIA. The agency directs the flights using military personnel, then uses the intelligence feeds for its own purposes.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2015

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