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US seeks to purchase small UAS for battle against Islamic State

US President Barack Obama has asked for $55 million worth of small, tactical unmanned air vehicles as part of a $5.6 billion request to Congress for the US fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama on 10 November issued a request for amendments to his fiscal year 2015 budget request for “activities to degrade and ultimately defeat” ISIS. The funds would be added to the US government war budget, called overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding, which brings total OCO requests for the year to $63.6 billion.

The document lists $544.5 million for “classified purposes” for the Air Force, one of the largest single sums requested.

The funding request specifically earmarks $55 million for the navy for procurement of small, tactical unmanned aerial systems in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, as the fight against ISIS is named. The document does not specify a platform and Naval Air Systems Command did not immediately return calls seeking information.

The most likely candidates are the Boeing Insitu Scan Eagle or RQ-21 Blackjack, which can launch and be recovered aboard ship or by Marine UAV squadrons ashore to provide real-time tactical surveillance. Their limited range means that in Iraq and Syria, they likely will be operated by personnel at one of the two staging bases the Obama administration announced would be built outside Baghdad and in Anbar province. At least 1,500 troops in addition to those 1,500 already in Iraq will be sent to man those bases, which are tasked with supporting the Iraqi army’s fight against ISIS militants.

Small tactical UAS (STUAS) are designated by the navy as Group II aircraft, which generally require mechanically assisted launch. The Marine Corps initially established the STUAS programme of record to have 10h endurance and a ceiling of 15,000ft (4,572m) and an operational radius of 50nm.

The additional funding is aimed at “sustaining personnel forward deployed to the Middle East to provide training, advice and assistance to partner security forces” fighting ISIS, says Obama’s letter to Congress. It also will provide “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms and support that are essential to conduct comprehensive counterterrorism operations”.

Obama has also requested $24 million for Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles for the army and air force and Boeing GBU-39 small-diameter bomb to replace those already fired against ISIS targets. Another $54.3 million would pay for Raytheon BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles for the Navy.

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