Drone programs take across-the-board hit in Pentagon budget

The brunt of those cuts fell to the Air Force, which owns and operates the majority of the Pentagon's arsenal of armed and surveillance drones. 

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The drone cuts were part of the $45.4 billion request for all military aircraft in the department's fiscal 2014 spending plan, sent to Congress on Wednesday. 

The reductions come as somewhat of a surprise, given the Obama administration's aggressive use of armed drone strikes in counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups worldwide. 

At the same time, the White House is considering shifting all armed drone operations to Pentagon control. Currently the Pentagon and the CIA operate their own armed drone programs. 

Under the Obama administration’s proposal, the CIA would continue to supply intelligence on possible targets, but actual control over the drone strikes would fall to the military. 

But under reductions to the department's drone programs in the fiscal 2014 budget plan, the services may not have enough assets to take on that role completely. 

The service's MQ-9 Reaper drone took the biggest hit under the department's budget blueprint

Pentagon number-crunchers slashed procurement of the military's newest attack and intelligence drone from 24 planes in 2013 to 12 this fiscal year. 

That cut, from $1 billion in 2013 to $506 billion for 2014, should save the department roughly $500 million, according to the Pentagon budget blueprint. 

Spending for the MQ-1 Predator, which the Reaper is slated to replace in the coming years, was also reduced by $200 million.

Military leaders will purchase a total 15 Predators and Grey Eagles — the Army's version of the Air Force drone — with the $662 million set aside in the 2014 budget plan. 

That is four fewer drones than what the department requested in the previous fiscal year. 

The Air Force's premiere, high-altitude surveillance drone, the RQ-4 Global Hawk, will be cut down to two aircraft from the 6 planes requested in the previous fiscal year, according to the DOD budget. 

Those reductions would net the air service $357 million in savings, the budget proposal states. 

The Pentagon's fleet of small, tactical drones, such as the Army and Marine Corps Shadow and Raven aircraft, came out of the new budget somewhat unscathed. 

Despite the DOD only opting to buy 25 small, tactical drones this fiscal year, compared to the 239 requested in 2013, cuts to those programs only totaled $24 million. 

The relatively small budget cut to the Shadow and Raven programs, compared to the massive reduction in proposed procurement, is tied to low cost to build and operate those drones compared to the larger and more advanced Predators and Global Hawks.

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