Pentagon Gets $7.5 Billion for Unmanned Systems

By Jon Harper
MQ-25 Stingray drone

Boeing photo

The Defense Department has been allocated about $7.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for a variety of robotic platforms and related technologies, according to a recent study that looked at more than 1,000 funding items.

All of the military services and Special Operations Command are pursuing these capabilities, also known as UxV, for the air, ground, maritime surface and subsurface domains.

“Recent advancements in autonomy, sensors, energy/propulsion systems, and navigation/control systems have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of UxV, allowing them to function for long periods of time with minimal human input and oversight,” said a new report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, “2021 Defense Budget for Unmanned Systems and Robotics.”

“Sustained investments in UxV systems will expand their uses, enabling DoD to more effectively allocate resources and speed response times in a hybrid fleet system,” the study said.

For 2021, 17 military agencies and departments were appropriated funding for UxV technologies, with the Air Force, Army and Navy accounting for 87 percent of the $7.5 billion total.

The Navy leads all the services with approximately $1.76 billion appropriated for research, development, test and evaluation. Others also received substantial RDT&E funding including: Army, $1.02 billion; Air Force, $632 million; Marine Corps, $238 million; Defense Advanced

Research Projects Agency, $216 million; Special Operations Command, $55 million; and Office of the Secretary of Defense, $210 million.

The Navy and Air Force each received approximately $1.1 billion for procurement of unmanned systems; The Army received $885 million, Marine Corps $70 million, and SOCOM $90 million.

Funding for robotics technologies related to the air, maritime subsurface, maritime surface and ground domains totaled $3.32 billion, $1.38 billion, $1.19 billion and $1.36 billion, respectively.

“Notably, approximately $820 million is devoted to programs that improve cross-domain capabilities of UxV,” the study said.

The funding isn’t just going toward platforms.

“Capability enhancements for unmanned systems are derived from improvements in the enabling technologies and subsystems that are integrated onto these platforms,” the report noted.

“Across the board, technologies that enable improved navigation and control of unmanned systems receive high levels of support,” it said.

“Sensors and payloads represent arguably the most important enabling technology category for unmanned systems and this remains an area of focus in the FY 2021 budget.”

Autonomy is another critical enabler.

“Automation is being integrated wherever possible to reduce soldier burden, improve the efficiency of operations and increase situational awareness,” the report said. “Autonomy weaves its way through most of the other technologies … and will transform the future landscape of the battlefield.”

Other enabling technologies receiving funding include communications/data management, cyber, electronic warfare, mobility, manned-unmanned teaming, propulsion/energy, sensors/payloads, simulation, training and remotely operated weapon systems.

Going forward, unmanned systems are expected to continue to receive substantial funding under President Joe Biden.

“The current administration is putting emphasis on autonomous and remotely crewed systems, or ARCS, as a cross-cutting enabler for all DoD missions,” Christopher O’Donnell, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, said during a recent AUVSI defense conference. The aim is to “accelerate the adoption of these capabilities across all the domains,” he added.

A growing concern for the Pentagon is how to counter enemy unmanned systems, particularly small UAVs.

“U.S. forces will increasingly operate remotely crewed and autonomous systems across all domains — and let’s face it, our adversaries are doing the same,” O’Donnell said. “We must be able to detect, track, identify and — if necessary — deter, deny or defeat them.”

In 2021, the Army leads all the services with $190 million in funding for counter-UAS capabilities. The Air Force is receiving $29 million, Navy $73 million, Marine Corps $38 million, and SOCOM $38 million, according to the report.

Topics: Budget, Robotics, Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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