As much as they grumble about tours of duty in Washington, military leaders understand many key battles that steer the course of national security (and their own careers) are waged for the hearts and minds of power brokers there. Hence the skirmishing by leakers and press briefers recently on a hot political battleground for combat aviation: operational control of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in theater.
The U.S. Air Force wants the Pentagon to give it control of all medium- and high-altitude UAVs, promoting their proliferation and the rising risk of midair collisions. Army leaders counter they need control of UAVs below about 3,500 ft to ensure faster tactical response than central USAF control can offer. UAVs are key tools in foiling ambushes, they say, and are "woven into the fabric" of ground operations.
Part of this fight is philosophical. USAF relies on positive airspace control. The Army restricts airspace where UAVs operate, but it wants UAVs more capable of sensing and avoiding other aircraft. Hanging in the balance is control of the tactical airspace tomorrow.