Army brass opposes drone branch

Army brass opposes drone branch

Army leaders rejected a Congressional proposal to establish a drone branch, they said in statements Tuesday and Friday. 

“We see [drones] as integrated into our formation, not some separate piece. And I think we need that kind of flexibility,” Army Chief of Staff Randy George, told the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I don’t think it would be helpful to have a separate drone branch.” 

Service Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo was similarly forthright, speaking Friday at an event hosted by think tank CNAS. 

“Making a decision on specializing a branch I think would be premature,” Camarillo said.  Instead, the Army must first experiment with drones to establish how it wants to best use them across Army formations, he said. 

The House’s tactical and land forces subcommittee made the proposal for the drone branch in the 2025 defense authorization bill. It would put drones on par with the 22 branches the service has now, such as artillery and armor.

A senior Army officer would lead the drone branch, taking responsibility for training and force modernization. And the drone branch would also include counter-drone activities, a congressional staffer told Defense One last week. 

The staffer did note Army opposition to the plan, but expressed confidence that it would be adopted anyway. 

A drone branch is a good sign that Congress is taking unmanned vehicles seriously, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. In general, the Army should seek to professionalize its use of drones, Clark added. 

“Drones have been treated mostly as elements of troop formations for surveillance, but the idea of drones as an important element of [indirect fire] should drive ground forces to rethink their role as being more like artillery,” Clark said. 

Ukrainian drone operators have described the use of drones to coordinate artillery fire as key to offensive operations. The country in February announced the formation of its own drone branch.  German parliamentarians have similarly advocated for a drone branch. 

Still, U.S. Army leaders say that while they’re leery of a drone branch, they do back more investments in drones and counter-drone tools.

“Gen. George and I both believe that we need to invest more in counter [drone] capabilities,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

“As we’re putting together the [fiscal year] 26 budget, counter-UAS investment is definitely an area of focus for all of the Army leadership,” said Camarillo, speaking to reporters after the CNAS event last Friday. 

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