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Sequester Looms Over Unmanned Vehicle Conference
By Valerie Insinna



An Army official had a sober message for industry gathered at a conference on ground robotics: If you’re looking for good news, look elsewhere.

The current fiscal crisis — including a continuing resolution blocking new-start programs, and a shortfall in overseas contingency funding supporting troops in Afghanistan — has pushed the Army to the brink, and unmanned ground systems will likely share the pain, Army Maj. Gen. Robert Dyess, director of the G-8’s force development directorate, said Feb. 12.

"You will hear me say today that the Army is committed to unmanned ground systems, and then you will also say that your investment should follow your commitment,” he said at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s program review in McLean, Va. "When you see the president's budget that's going to be submitted in about a month ... you will question if the Army is actually committed to unmanned ground systems."

The budget will include some new ground robot procurements, he said, although he declined to name specific programs.

Ultimately, the fiscal climate will force the Army to look for cheaper ways of using ground robotics. For example, the service plans to transition logistics support from defense contractors to soldiers. It will also rely more on commercial technology, Dyess said.

The Army is also looking for more integration between ground robots and small unmanned aerial vehicles, Dyess said. It wants to “go send a Raven out, put it into orbit, put a sensor on it so it can stare at something, and then take your ground robot and then augment that reconnaissance.”

The service is also interested in “turning any vehicle that we have into a large ground robot.”

Lockheed Martin’s squad mission support system, a large unmanned vehicle used for transporting equipment and supplies, is not likely to get funding in fiscal year 2014, but, “We do see that as a solution for the Army,” Dyess said.

The service will also recapitalize about 2,700 of its current unmanned ground systems that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dyess said. “We're going to bring them home, upgrade their capabilities, and then provide them either in training sets or to units that are going to be deployed into harm's way.”

It also plans to divest itself of 2,469 older robots, which will be given to Defense Department partners or other government agencies, he added.

Since 2003, the Army has invested more than $730 million in unmanned ground systems in order to fill urgent needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno will testify on Capitol Hill Feb. 13 about the consequences of sequestration, which include a hold on the service’s depot maintenance and a furlough for its civilian workforce for one day a week for the next 22 weeks. The Army would also have to delay training for some brigade combat teams, Dyess said.

The view from Congress is that sequestration will go into effect on March 1, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a separate speech.

"I don't know if the House is going to give into massive tax increases,” he said at the conference. “I don't know if the Senate and the White House are going to give in and shift the spending cuts from one area to another. And of course, there's always the third possibility that we just borrow the money."

Photo Credit: Army

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