Nathan Hodge at Danger Room reads the leaked QDR draft and notices that it heralds the Rise of the Drones:

According to that draft, the Department of Defense is “is on track” to field and sustain 50 drone orbits by Fiscal Year 2013. What’s more, the Pentagon “will continue to expand the force to at least 65 orbits by FY 15.”

Just to give a sense of how significant this is, some context. On a visit to an “undisclosed location” in Southwest Asia last year, Noah got the inside scoop on current Predator and Reaper operations: The Air Force, he reported, has a total of 39 orbits in the Central Command region. And those orbits include the CIA’s controversial drone operations over Pakistan, which are technically compartmentalized from — but overlap with — the military’s efforts in Afghanistan. (“There are 39 orbits, that’s it. No wink, wink,” a military officer memorably told Noah.)

An orbit is a drone air patrol with one of the drones. You know what I recently learned about the drones? The Air Force prefers you call them “remotely piloted aircraft” rather than “unmanned aerial vehicles.” Because, after all, the drones are controlled by airmen, not Daft Punk-style robots. So: point taken. (Those who deal much more directly with the Air Force than I do probably knew about this long long ago, but still.)

H/T: Paul McLeary.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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