Affordability will certainly be a guiding principle in the U.S. Army’s acquisition and operation of unmanned systems as the military pivots from recent wars, the armed service’s deputy chief of staff responsible for financial management told an industry audience Aug. 13. But just as important will be the need to integrate manned and unmanned systems across the U.S. military and with certain allies, too, as well as training with and supporting them.
Lt. Gen. James Barclay, the deputy chief (G-8), said in a keynote address to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s (AUVSI) annual conference in Washington that while budgets remain uncertain — the 2011 Budget Control Act and its potential annual sequestration cuts loom over the conference — the Army knows it needs unmanned air and ground systems and that they must be fully interoperable with manned systems. That realization is a real reversal of the ruling sentiment at the beginning of the three-star general’s 30-plus year career, Barclay said. At the time, unmanned systems were dismissed, if for no other reason than the perceived threat they posed to human jobs. But not anymore. “We know we have to have manned-unmanned teaming,” he said. “That is the future of this Army.”
But along with the challenges of affordably developing and integrating semi-autonomous unmanned systems with soldiers and their own systems, the Army has additional concerns to address, according to Barclay. For starters, soldiers will have to be able to fully and reliably train with these systems inside the U.S. — which is no guarantee, despite their widely lauded military service in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as domestic airspace issues remain unresolved for UAVs. Then, Barclay noted, there is also the question of unmanned ground systems on U.S. soil.
Moreover, major questions of affordability, security and reliability remain to be answered over how to maintain, repair and overhaul unmanned systems. While contractor logistics support services increasingly have been utilized for traditional manned systems, the Army is still considering whether it needs an “organic” depot and supply capability for unmanned systems, according to Barclay.
Finally, Barclay mentioned the need to maintain enough network bandwidth for connectivity of all of these manned and unmanned systems. While the government has been selling bandwidth spectrum to raise funds and assist newer business sectors, the military must be assured enough of its own, he said.
Barclay spoke to a large audience in the vast Exhibit Hall C of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, an indicator of widespread business and government interest in all things unmanned as the sector remains one of the few bright spots in the budget no matter what happens with sequestration. A forecast last year by aviation consultants at the Teal Group projected worldwide annual spending on research, development, testing, evaluation and procurement of UAVs alone rising from $6.6 billion this year to $11.4 billion in 2022. Total spending for the decade could amount to more than $89 billion.