Commando-Launched Lethal Drones Included in $11 Billion Request

  • Obama asks Congress for extra defense funds in current year
  • Pentagon seeks to replace Russian-made copters for Afghans

An $11.6 billion defense request that President Barack Obama sent Congress includes funds to buy more lethal drones for U.S. commandos fighting Islamic State and other terrorists as well as networks to counter the pilotless aircraft those groups are now using.

The extra war-related funding requested Thursday for the current fiscal year would provide $5.8 billion for the Pentagon to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. An equal amount for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development would support counterterrorism efforts, refugee aid and improved embassy security, Obama said in a letter to lawmakers.

While the amount requested for lethal drones is small, it provides a glimpse into a largely hidden phase of U.S. special operations in Iraq. The White House requested $46.5 million to buy 535 Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile Systems and related equipment requested by the Special Operations Command Central due to “urgent operational needs.”

The drone request is described as “for analytics, targeting, training, and equipment to
support deployed U.S. Forces.” The only U.S. fighters in Iraq who are actively engaged in combat against Islamic State are in the highly classified Expeditionary Targeting Force set up a year ago to kill or capture militants. U.S. special operations forces also conduct raids in Afghanistan.

Read more: Islamic State Drone Use Raising Risks in Mosul Battle

The administration also requested, without elaboration, $150 million to develop and field within two years a network of “counter-small unmanned aerial systems at sites” in Iraq.

Russian Helicopters

The supplemental request to Congress also calls for $814 million to help Pentagon and Afghan forces transition from Russian-built helicopters to ones made in the U.S.

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Sikorsky unit and Textron Inc. have lobbied against continued funding for Russian MI-17 helicopters used by the Afghans, citing tensions over President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine and Syria. Syrian forces have used some of the same Russian copters against civilians in the civil war there.

Lawmakers from Connecticut and Texas, where American military helicopters are made, have put language in defense bills to prohibit additional U.S. purchases of Russian helicopters for the Afghan military, which has used the aircraft since the 1980s.

“The current fleet of Russian helicopters is increasingly difficult to sustain and will require significant recapitalization in the coming years,” according to White House documents.

The money also would be used to buy additional cargo and close-air support aircraft for the Afghan air force. That could open the door for additional purchases of A-29 Super Tucano propeller ground-attack planes made by Sierra Nevada Corp. and Brazilian subcontractor Embraer SA. Twenty have been purchased so far.

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