Countries with significant air power or the ability to shoot down aircraft are scattered across the region, including China, Russia and North Korea — as well as key U.S. allies such as Japan and Australia. America’s pivot to the Pacific reflects a growing strategic concern over China’s rise as a military power, amid simmering disputes over Taiwan and contested islands in the south and east China seas.
Hostage said the Predators and Reapers can be used in the Pacific region ‘‘but not in a highly contested environment. We may be able to use them on the fringes and on the edges and in small locales, but we’re much more likely to lose them if somebody decides to challenge us for that space.’’
James said the Air Force is evaluating how much to continue to invest in drones like the Reapers that can be used for counterterrorism missions in more so-called permissive environments, versus how much investment should be shifted to other aircraft. The Air Force uses an array of aircraft, such as the U-2 spy plane, the high-altitude Global Hawk drone or satellites and systems that can gather intelligence from space.
David Deptula, a retired Air Force three-star general who was deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said the military needs to measure its drone requirements by the amount of data and intelligence needed by troops to accomplish their mission. The focus should not be on the number of drone patrols but on how well the information is being received and analyzed.
As technologies advance, he said, the Pentagon can reduce the number of drones in orbit, while still increasing the video, data and other information being transmitted.
‘‘There are smarter ways to deliver the capabilities that are more cost effective’’ than just building more drones, he said.
Associated Press Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.