It has been more than two years since the United States military successfully test-fired its first commercial spy drone.
In November 2017, the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps all deployed the Predator drone, a drone designed to spy on enemies and adversaries of the United Nations.
But in June 2018, the Pentagon announced the retirement of the Predator and the development of a more capable drone.
The unmanned aircraft was also designed to fly over battlefields, with the intention of providing real-time intelligence and targeting information.
But after a series of tests in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, the Predator’s capabilities were deemed too risky and expensive to deploy to combat operations.
In September 2018, however, the U.S. government launched a new drone, the Reaper, that could be deployed from the ground.
The Reaper was also meant to be an effective aerial weapon, and could be used to attack ISIS, al Qaeda, and other extremist groups.
And it was meant to deliver a payload of intelligence and surveillance data.
But by the time the UAVs arrived in the air, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, and the United Republic of Tanzania had all banned its use.
By then, the drones had already been used in the conflict in Afghanistan, where they had reportedly shot down a Russian SU-24, a Russian MiG-29K fighter jet, and a MiG fighter jet.
By 2020, the British and French governments had all announced that the drones were no longer authorized for use in the war.
And on September 22, 2020, a month before the Reaper was due to take off for the first time, the CIA and the Air National Guard announced the formation of a Joint Surveillance Target Acquisition Group, or JSTAG.
The new group of armed drones would be able to perform both reconnaissance and strike missions, and would be allowed to fly freely over enemy territory.
While the CIA was still in the early stages of development of the drone, and while the Air Corps had already decided to end the use of the Predators for combat operations, it was the end of the era for the Predator, and its replacement.
The drones were eventually withdrawn from service in 2018.
In 2019, a joint committee of Congress voted to fund the acquisition of two new drones.
In 2020, however and in a year and a half later, both of the new drones were retired.
In 2018, two years after the Predators retirement, the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced the creation of the Joint Operational Surveillance Targeting Activity.
The designation was to designate a new “mobile strike platform” for the U-2 spy aircraft, which would be equipped with an “enhanced high-altitude infrared capability” that would enable it to “detect and target targets and large objects in the vicinity of the aircraft.”
But that designation was quickly rescinded.
The CIA and Air Force had also issued a joint statement in 2021 that “a new strategic plan is not in the works” and that “all elements of the program are currently underway.”
The U.K., France, Germany and Italy also removed the use for their UAV programs.
In 2021, the French Defense Ministry said that the UAS program had “been put on indefinite hiatus due to a lack of budget and time to develop the capabilities needed.”
But the Predator is now back on the table again, albeit as a part of a larger program that is meant to counter Russia and Iran, with which the United states and Russia are engaged in a proxy war in Syria.
But as the drone program continues to evolve, so too does the role of the UTSG.
The JSTG is tasked with carrying out “precision targeting,” and its goal is to develop and operate “new and more advanced surveillance and intelligence capabilities that can help enhance our ability to detect, locate, and disrupt enemy, insurgent, and non-state actors,” according to a statement released in January 2018.
The statement goes on to say that “the JSTPG will be used by the ULTRA [Intelligence-Targeting and Tactical-Action] Element to further our strategic strike capabilities and intelligence collection and analysis capabilities.”
The statement also says that “as part of the JSTFG [Intensive Targeting] Element, the JLTRA Element is in the process of establishing a new Joint Target Acquisition [JTAG] and is planning to integrate it into the current Joint Tactical Targeting (JTAC) program.”
The JTSG, the statement goes, is “designed to support the UTTG mission to conduct precision targeting in the context of a wider U. S. Global Strike Operations strategy.”
The purpose of the joint JTSGP is to ensure “the integration of the [UAS] surveillance and target acquisition program into the Joint Tactical [Targeting] Program,” the statement reads.
In the future, however , the JTSGA will be tasked with