The number of US drone flights, known as combat air patrols, would be increased by about 50 percent by 2019, from between 60 and 65 a day to about 90, according to Defense Department spokesman Jeff Davis.
The increase in drone flights comes as the Pentagon tries to meet the reconnaissance and air strike needs of combatant commanders.
"We've seen a steady demand signal from all of our geographic combatant commanders to have more of this capability," Davis said.
The plan to expand the use of drones, including the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, flies in the face of recent warnings by senior Air Force commander that the drone fleet and its operators were being stretched to the breaking point.
Drones provide reach, flexibility & safety for operators, but sometimes eliminating 1 target breeds 10 new threats. https://t.co/vVIrmkpepg— Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) 17 августа 2015
Top US military officials said that even though drones have mainly been used to target terrorists and collect intelligence over combat zones, those goals may shift in the next few years given what they described as an alleged security threat from Russia and China.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior defense official said that Pentagon leaders are taking those security challenges into account as they decide how armed and unarmed drones will be used across Europe and the Pacific.
Meanwhile, reports about drone strikes killing civilians instead of terrorists have shown no sign of abating.
According to previous reports, between 416 and 951 civilians, including 168 to 200 children, have been killed in US drone attacks in Pakistan alone in the past.
Apart from Pakistan, civilian deaths from drone strikes were also reported in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.