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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Program Executive Office for Aviation with its Project Office for Unmanned Aircraft Systems celebrated a major milestone of surpassing two million hours of flight with the Army's fleet of unmanned aircraft systems during a ceremony March 18.

On display at the event were the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, MQ-5B Hunter, RQ-7B Shadow, RQ-11B Raven, RQ-20A Puma, One System Remote Video Terminal, Universal Ground Control Station, Universal Mission Simulator, and the Ground Based Sense and Avoid System.

"It took the Army 20 years to hit the first million flight hours in 2010," said Col. Timothy Baxter, Project Manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. "It has taken us less than four years to hit the second million."

Ninety percent of the two million flight hours are attributed to direct support to combat operations. "Every single one of those hours has meant something to the commanders on the ground," said Baxter. "This is a testament to our workforce and the contributions that you've made in support of unmanned aircraft systems."

As DoD budgets shrink, PEO Aviation and PM UAS remain dedicated to exploring all opportunities to gain Better Buying Power in order to do more without more, noted Congressman Mo Brooks, representative for Alabama's 5th congressional district and chairman of the Army Aviation Caucus.

"PEO Aviation has risen to the task with a balanced approach that has already netted across the board savings while having minimal impact on mission accomplishment. As a member of the HASC, please let me convey our sense of thanks and pride in the quality of work done by PEO Aviation and its support teams. Quite frankly, America needs PEO Aviation to continue to surpass expectations as it has done over the last 20 years. Thankfully you have done that. All of us in Washington are proud of the difference you make on the battlefield both in achieving victory for our military objectives but also in saving the lives of our warfighters."

Dyke Weatherington, director for Unmanned Warfare & Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, marked the individual achievements of PEO Aviation and PM UAS in his remarks. "In 2001 the total UAS inventory across DoD consisted of about a half a dozen [FQM-151] Pointers and a few Hunters that the Army was getting ready to box up and put in the warehouse," he said. "It was because of the leadership and foresight of folks down here that that didn�'t happen."

Over the past 10 years, the Army inventory has increased from a fleet of less than 20 unmanned aircraft to more than 8,000 today.

"You have fundamentally changed the way DoD conducts operations both in combat and in surveillance and all the credit goes to you, to the innovative and dedicated teams both on the government and industry side who have made that happen," said Weatherington.

The Army continues to lead DoD in joint UAS integration and interoperability, Weatherington noted. "I just can't say enough about how Army aviation is the model for everything AT&L [acquisition, technology and logistics] is trying to do."

The primary mission of Army unmanned aircraft is to provide tactical reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA). They also perform a myriad of other functions including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), battle damage assessment, persistent stare for around-the-clock lethal and non-lethal operations, convoy protection and anti-ambush/anti-improvised explosive device (IED) emplacement.