The Defense Department is dispensing with the descriptive “unmanned
aerial vehicles,” in favor of a new term: unmanned aircraft
systems. Officials assert this name change reflects the increasingly
complex nature of unmanned-aircraft programs, which not only include
airframes, but also ground-control stations, sensor suites and communications
More attention needs to be paid to the technology supporting the
air vehicles, said Dyke Weatherington, deputy of the UAS planning
task force at the office of the secretary of defense.
The Pentagon’s latest unmanned-systems roadmap, expected
to be published this month, will shape future buys and the development
of military tactics, he said at a conference sponsored by the Association
of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “This document
will have a big significance on the quadrennial defense review we’re
about to start.”
Real world lessons are driving requirements, he said. Unmanned
vehicles currently in operation in Iraq and Afghanistan were “designed
as an ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) system,
not for direct targeting support. Yet that’s what we’re
doing today,” Weatherington said. “Not all the data
is there that the users need.”
Communications have received their own appendix in this roadmap,
he said. The need to get real-time information to interested parties
at multiple command levels has prompted a requirement for standard
interfaces, which permits easier data sharing.
Refinements on older sensors, and using new ones, are included
in military plans. A prototype of a high-definition television camera
is being built, for use in target identification and tracking. Much
of the UAS work is being field tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, Weatherington
said. One currently deployed system that shows promise is the Lynx
radar that was designed and developed by Sandia National Laboratories
for reconnaissance and surveillance in adverse weather conditions.
New technologies must be developed that give a broad area perspective
in detail, and in real time, Weatherington said. Advances in collecting
signals intelligence will be also explored, he pointed out.
There is also a need to integrate dissimilar sensors to provide
the many different players all pertinent battlefield information.
“We are finding increasingly that a single sensor looking
at a single target may not be able to provide a war fighter all
that he needs,” Weatherington said.
There also is a growing interest in survivability. “The enemy
now is limited in an air defense capability, but that may not be
the case in the future,” he said.
Unmanned aircraft of various sizes, operating at different altitudes,
would require unique defenses. Camouflage is the preferred method,
with high-fliers tamping down their radar signatures, and craft
at lower levels becoming harder to spot and quieter.
Weapons are another topic of discussion. While the topic is not
given its own chapter in the roadmap, a variety of armaments are
being considered for unmanned air systems, Weatherington said.
Also in the roadmap are appendixes devoted to airships, potential
use of UAS by the Department of Homeland Security, and a classified
section on the use of unmanned aircraft in military operations in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unmanned aircraft programs are enjoying robust funding from the
White House. In President Bush’s 2006 request, the budget
for unmanned vehicles stands at $1.7 billion, Weatherington noted.
Calculating the exact figure, even by those inside the Pentagon,
is hampered by the fact that “the services bury some procurements”
in other programs. Weatherington added that coming adjustments would
likely push the total UAS budget figure higher.
Some high-profile UAS efforts are encountering hurdles, however.
The Navy’s broad area maritime surveillance aircraft witnessed
a reduction of funding to accompany its design delays.
According to a senior Navy official, the service has decided to
postpone the procurement of BAMS both for budgetary reasons and
because the sensor requirements remain undefined. Pentagon planners
are not pleased by this setback. “There is a hole in 2006
for BAMS. They’re going to try to shift 2005 (funds) to ’06,”
Weatherington said. “We worked hard to pull that back.”
Budget documents show that the procurement of BAMS dropped to zero
through fiscal year 2009, with four aircraft slated to be bought
by 2011. “The Navy wanted to do a competitive acquisition,”
said Weatherington. “The department is not happy to see that.”