July 23, 2009 CNN
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Look at this. I mean, there have been nearly 20 drone strikes in Pakistan al
July 23, 2009 CNN
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Look at this. I mean, there have been nearly 20 drone strikes in Pakistan alone already this year. And the Air Force says this unmanned aircraft program is only where manned aircraft were in the 1920s.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): A U.S. counterterrorism official says Osama bin Laden's son is probably dead. There's not enough evidence to be sure, but officials believe Saad bin Laden was killed in a missile strike by an unmanned Predator drone.
On Monday, the Air Force outlined where it wants to go with unmanned aircraft systems -- drones able to switch from refueling missions to long-range assault, or remote operator controlling several planes at once?
LT. GEN. DAVID DEPTULA, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR INTELLIGENCE: ... which allows us to project power without projecting as much vulnerability.
LAWRENCE: But that distance can also be a weakness. Bombings by drones have been blamed for civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in those cultures, some see it as cowardly to fight remotely, possibly leading to a loss of respect and support for U.S. forces.
In 2004, unmanned drones were running five combat air patrols, compared to 35 a day now. But in that time, one thing has remained relatively constant.
DEPTULA: We have become accustomed to operating in battle space that we control.
LAWRENCE: Meaning there's no enemy jets trying to shoot them down. The Air Force admits it's got a ways to go before drones can survive on that battlefield.
DEPTULA: Because some of the systems that we have today you put in a high threat environment, and they'll start falling from the sky like rain.
LAWRENCE: But they are making progress. Right now, each combat air patrol takes about 10 pilots to operate. In a few years, they expect to reduce that to five. And eventually, ,about half the patrols would be fully automated and need no pilots -- Wolf.