In late December the US Department of Defense releases its biannual Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap which: “will be critical to U.S. operations in all domains across a range of conflicts, both because of their capability and performance advantages and because of their ability to take greater risk than manned systems.”
As unmanned systems have proven their worth on the ‘battlefield,’ the DoD has allocated an increasing percentage of its budget to developing and acquiring these systems. As the roadmap indicates Unmanned systems have proven they can:
“Enhance situational awareness, reduce human workload, improve mission performance, and minimize overall risk to both civilian and military personnel, and all at a reduce cost.”
With dramatic increases in battery life and computer processing, robotics; reduction in size and complexity of sensors; and improvements in reliability, maintainability, automation, and operator interfaces, unmanned systems are now vital components of the military’s operational commander’s tool kit.
The roadmap indicates that over the last decade: “Growth in unmanned platforms of all sizes and shapes has been substantial.” The five year budget for Drones and other Unmanned Systems is set at US$ 23,883.2 billion. (Or approximately US$4.8 billion per year.)
For most people, the term unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is closely associated with the U.S. Air Force’s Predator or Global Hawk aircraft. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), however, is a more accurate and complete term which includes the aircraft as well as supporting ground, air, and communications infrastructure.
The three areas of the US DoD budget are:
Unmanned Aircraft Systems
DoD defines unmanned aircraft as “an aircraft or balloon that does not carry a human operator and is capable of flight under remote control or autonomous programming.”
Therefore, when the aircraft is under remote control, it is not autonomous. And when it is autonomous, it is not under remote control. While these two conditions could exist (controlled and uncontrolled), current DoD UAS are remotely operated and capitalize on automation in extreme circumstances, such as a lost link condition, to automatically perform a preprogrammed set of instructions. This distinction is important because our community vernacular often uses the term “autonomy” to incorrectly describe automated operations.
The roadmap notes that:
“Research and development in automation are advancing from a state of automatic systems requiring human control toward a state of autonomous systems able to make decisions and react without human interaction.”
Yep, you read that right, drones could become autonomous and able to make decisions without human guidance. Although presumably somewhere they will need to have been programmed? The roadmap seeks to address many legal, policy, and ethical issues around this.
Unmanned Ground Systems
UGS are a powered physical system with (optionally) no human operator aboard the principal platform, which can act remotely to accomplish assigned tasks. UGS may be mobile or stationary, can be smart learning and self-adaptive, and include all associated supporting components such as operator control units.
The DoD puts an emphasize on these systems and their vision for increasing spend beyond 2016:
“This vision continues to be strengthened as ground-based robots have proven their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan across a spectrum of mission areas.”
The areas are shown in the next photo:
Unmanned Maritime Systems
UMS comprise unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs), which include both unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), all necessary support components.
The DoD roadmap illustrates a futuristic storyline which gives insight into the capabilities that could come about with today’s emerging technologies applied on future unmanned systems and is well worth reading.
Additionally the DoD is further considering a future leaner military with more advanced technological capabilities and assessing:
“Quantum computing, microelectronics, robotics, nanomaterials, genetics, “big data,” alternative energy sources, advanced materials, and modeling and simulation. Technologies that have the potential to significantly enhance or transform the nature of warfare in the sea, land, air and space, and cyber regimes.”
“Realization of this goal will decrease physical and cognitive workloads on our warfighters, while increasing their combat capabilities. The end state is an affordable, modernized force as a manned-unmanned team with improved movement and maneuver, protection, intelligence, and sustainment.
Unmanned systems is expected to be an US$ 89 billion market over the next 5 years and it is clear the US Department of Defense aim to be a major party in developing and protecting their lead in the market.