Michael Donley: Air Force Playing 'Catch Up' With Drone Data

AF image of Predator drone

The U.S. Air Force has changed its drone purchasing strategy as the branch plays catch up in sifting through the large amounts of video and still-photo data its drone sensors captured, Wired reports. 

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters Thursday that drone intelligence data outpaces the Air Force’s manpower to analyze it. 

Donley said it may take years before the branch can examine all collected information and decipher what data is pertinent to keep or not from various missions.

The difficulty catching up lies in determining what to sift for in the data.

Some sensor data is time-sensitive, such as video of Afghan troops seizing insurgents in the process of creating homemade bombs.

Some data may not be time-sensitive, but could be relevant to future missions. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing a solution that would automate cameras with algorithmic sifters, Donley said.

The sensor would pre-select data to send to imagery analysts. Another solution would be to provide analysts better search tools so to sift through backlogged data.

Donley said the Air Force is also working on machine-machine tools to help its air patrol process data faster, helping analysts make immediate decisions and set less critical data aside for future use. 

The solutions will come in handy when the next generation of Air Force drones capable of surveying entire cities are put to use, the report said. 

The Air Force is set to increase its air patrols slightly, planning to purchase up to four General Atomics-built Predators and Reapers.

The fleet will maintain its levels for the next few years and Donley says that will give the Air Force enough time to catch up. 

Once the Air Force can adequately man its force and provide the processing exploitation capabilities, Donley thinks the air patrol could increase to 85 total vehicles.

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