For years, the US Air Force (USAF) has argued that their service should oversee unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) procurement as well as operations, to systematically organise the growing numbers of unmanned vehicles flying in the increasingly crowded airspace over battlefields.
But the US Army and Marines counter that ground troops should control not only the acquisition but even the operation of their own UAVs, to more effectively support their fast-moving tactical operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The battle hotted up recently, after Adm Edmund Giambastiani, then the vice chairman of the joint staff, issued a memo on 16 July, which recommended that the air force be granted executive agent status over procurement of UAVs that fly at altitudes of more than 3,500 feet.
Giambastiani, who retired on 27 July, specified, however, that each service would retain operational control over their unmanned aircraft.
Immediately after that decision was made, the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps protested, asking deputy defense secretary Gordon England to make the final call himself. In this fractious atmosphere, the decision on whether the Air Force should have executive agency over mid- and high-flying UAVs has been delayed till 13 September, when the deputy's advisory working group (DAWG) is next scheduled to meet.
Co-chaired by deputy defense secretary England and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen James Cartwright, the DAWG failed to reach a decision on the issue at its last meeting, on 28 August, though sources said the question of executive agency was discussed at the meeting, but no decision was taken. Whether a decision will emerge at the 13 September meeting remains to be seen.