US Secretary of Defense Bob Gates sent shockwaves around the US Air Force by sharply attacking the service's management of aerial intelligence assets, and has established a taskforce to recommend systemic changes.

Gates delivered his speech on 21 April at the Air University, the USAF's in-house educational institute for mid-level officers.

"I've been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets into the theatre," Gates said. "Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it's been like pulling teeth."

Three days later, Gates softened his tone, saying that his remarks were aimed at the bureaucracy of all three services, not at the USAF alone and not at military leaders serving in the combat zone.

"The thing that has concerned me is that in too many instances, there is a tendency to look out a year or two years or three years in terms of programmes and so on, and not enough willingness to think out of the box and how do we get more help to the theatre now," said Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Gates has commissioned the taskforce to deliver an initial report before 2 May and a final report within three months. The task force is charged with making recommendations in two areas. Firstly, all manned and unmanned ISR resources will be catalogued. Gates wants to challenge the services for holding back aerial assets from operations for training purposes.

"If we look at training in a different way than we have been in the pas,t can we maybe squeeze a little bit more of those capabilities over to Iraq or Afghanistan," Gates said.

Second, the taskforce will scrutinise the management of aerial intelligence assets in combat areas. "Are there ways in which, by changing the way they do business in some respects, we could squeeze more capability out of what they already have?" Gates asked.

For its part, the USAF defended its role as the Pentagon's lead agent for aerial ISR services. The USAF has currently deployed about 70 MQ-1 Predators, three MQ-9 Reapers and three RQ-4 Global Hawks. In 2007, the MQ-1/9 fleets fired 112 AGM-114 Hellfires and dropped 16 GBU-12 laser-guided bomb on targets, as well as looking at 10,413 targets.

Source: Flight International