James is the Air Force's deputy chief for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, giving him the flying service's drone portfolio. During a rare public talk yesterday in Washington, James let on that "sustainment" of the drone fleet is his next big task. That means focusing less on designing new robots, as the Air Force's new budget indicates, and more on the human problem of managing the absolutely enormous amount of data that its Predators, Reapers, Global Hawks and Sentinels generate.
"The future is going to be taking all sources of information and developing knowledge and intelligence from that," James said. He's working on some software fixes for that, as well as some data-storage farms. Welcome to the age of Big Drone Data.
The Air Force has actually lived in it for a long time. Last year, Secretary Michael Donley lamented that it will take "years" for Air Force analysts to swim through the oceans of imagery that the drones yield. One of the major purposes of the drone fleet is to hover over an area longer than a plane with a pilot in a cockpit can, snapping photos and streaming video down to the ground. And when you've got a robot doing that for 16 to 22 hours at a stretch, the length of a typical drone combat-air patrol, all that data piles up.