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Report: Pentagon Could Rely on Unmanned Systems Under Tighter Budget

Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Ken Hammond

In uncertain times regarding the budget, the Defense Department can change the way it does business and be more efficient or change the business it does and shift strategy, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

However, if additional, deeper cuts are imposed, authors Todd Harrison and Evan B. Montgomery say the Pentagon may have to change both the business it does and how it does business.

The authors say the Pentagon should prepare for the possibility of more cuts ahead of time and develop a menu of options for how the cuts can be implemented.

One option the Pentagon has, under known budget cuts, in changing the way it does business is to rely more heavily on unmanned systems, the report says.

Where there is room in technology and missions for use of unmanned systems, it can achieve long-term cost savings and is currently “effectively substituting technology for labor to achieve operational efficiencies,” the report says.

To illustrate their point, the authors compared one manned and one unmanned aircraft that can provide capabilities similar to that of a RQ-4 Global Hawk.

“A manned system is limited to mission durations of 10 hours or less due to the physical constraints of the pilot, while an unmanned system is limited only by the amount  of fuel on board, meaning flights of 32 hours are possible in the case of the Global Hawk,” the report says.

According to the authors, another advantage of using unmanned systems is reduced personnel costs. Fewer pilots, maintenance and support personnel are needed because fewer aircraft are used to perform a mission.

A manned system requires 15 pilots and 96 maintainers to maintain an orbit using eight aircraft. An unmanned system requires only 4 pilots and 35 maintainers forward-deployed using three aircraft.

“It may be possible to achieve similar savings from unmanned systems in other areas, such as underwater vehicles and ground vehicles,” the report says.

The authors added that unmanned aircraft are dependent on communication links for command and control, leaving themselves vulnerable to jamming. Current technology limits unmanned systems to permissive operating environments.

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