Pentagon Issues 25-Year Unmanned Systems Roadmap

 - January 3, 2014, 10:20 AM
U.S. military services have 7,332 hand-launched Aerovironment Ravens, according to the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap. (Photo: Aerovironment)

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) issued a new 25-year “roadmap” for the ongoing development, production and use of unmanned aircraft, ground and maritime systems through 2038. The roadmap forecasts that Pentagon spending on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will continue growing through 2015; thereafter the rate of spending will decline.

The DOD plans to spend $3.7 billion on research and development, procurement and operations and maintenance of UAS this year, increasing to $4.8 billion in 2015. It plans to spend $21.6 billion over the course of its five-year future years defense program (FYDP).

“Overall funding demonstrates a continued commitment to invest in UAS, performing predominately ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions,” states the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, which the Pentagon released on December 23. “Thus, while one industry analysis and forecasting group estimates worldwide UAS spending will almost double over the next 10 years to a total of $89 billion, a comparison of DOD funding plans versus industry predictions indicates DOD will not be the bulk user within that market. However, DOD does intend to be the most innovative user.”

For now, the Pentagon is the largest operator of UAS. The roadmap lists a department-wide inventory of 10,964 unmanned aircraft as of last July. Small UAS, categorized as Group 1, dominate the fleet, led by 7,332 hand-launched Aerovironment RQ-11 Ravens, used by the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command. The roadmap lists 112 General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers and 35 Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks operated by the Air Force at the high end, categorized as Group 5.

Combat operations in southwest Asia resulted in the “expeditious integration of unmanned technologies into the joint force structure,” the DOD notes. Future planning requires that currently fielded systems be “appropriately integrated” as military programs of record to achieve efficiency, affordability and interoperability parameters. With military budgets constrained for the foreseeable future, the department said, it is “imperative” that technical solutions be affordable and cost effective. The Pentagon’s strategic shift toward the Asia-Pacific region will also require some unmanned systems to operate in “anti-access/area denial” situations where their freedom to operate is challenged.

“Looking toward the future, modernization of current capabilities will dominate, and limited development of new capabilities will likely focus on smaller numbers of higher-end platforms capable of operating in more contested air environments,” the roadmap states.