UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Budget Constraints Shrink Army’s Ground Robot Fleet

February 18, 2013 at 2:27 am 1 comment

More than 2,000 Older Systems to Go

U.S. Army photo

A soldier prepares to send a small ground robot into a tunnel (U.S. Army photo)

ARLINGTON. Virginia – The U.S. Army has spent $730 million since 2003 on unmanned ground vehicles – mostly small robots on caterpillar tracks – but with the current budget crunch, it doesn’t expect to spend much more in the near future.

“When you see the president’s budget that’s going to be submitted in about a month,” Maj. Gen. Robert Dyess, head of the Army’s Force Development Directorate, told an unmanned systems industry group recently, “you’ll question if the Army is actually committed to unmanned ground systems.”

“Our hands are tied,” Dyess told the attendees at the 2013 review of government robotic programs sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International Systems (AUVSI), a three-day conference that ended last week (Feb. 14).

The problem, he said, is the threat of sequestration – a blunt and last ditch deficit reducing tool that will cut Defense Department spending by nearly $500 billion over the next five years if it goes into effect March 1. On top of that, Congress failed to pass a defense budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2012. Under a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government going, Congress has frozen spending at 2012 levels – meaning no new programs can be started and there is little leeway to move money around within the department from uneeded programs to ones desperatley short of funds.

Last week Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told a congressional hearing the cuts imposed by the CR and the sequestion – if they go forward – would amount to about $12 billion – mostly to operation and maintenance activities. That would be on top of the estimated $160 billion in cuts to the Army budget over the next nine years under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which trims almost $500 billion from the total defense budget over the next decade.

“If you’re expecting really positive from me today, I just cannot give it to you,” said Dyess, the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, which focused on ground vehicles. He added that the Army and other armed services will attempt to save money by divesting themselves of some robots and repairing the rest of their inventory in-house.

The plan calls for resetting existing unmanned ground systems (UGS) like Talon and Packbot by bringing them home from Afghanistan and elsewhere to be repaired and upgraded at Army facilities rather than by defense contractors. The Army plans to divest itself of 2,469 older UGSs – sending them to other departments and agencies. While the final recipients haven’t been determined yet, Dyess expected some of the ‘bots might go to allied militaries and local U.S. law enforcement.

That will leave about 2,700 UGSs in service. Rather than buy many more up-to-date robots, the Army and other armed services will seek to upgrade the robots they already have with so-called applique kits that add capabilities or improve existing ones.

Dyess noted that the Army has spent $730 million on unmanned ground systems since 2003. “That has saved countless lives, limbs and [the] eyesight of our soldiers,” he said, adding: “a very, very, very good investment.”

In the future, Dyess said, Army leadership will be looking for modularity of robot features like reconnaissance or bomb disposal equipment to encourage interoperability within units and other services. The Army is turning its focus to smaller unmanned systems that can be operated at the squad level, connected to a network and work with other assets like aviation. Autonomous operation of robots without constant of radio or telemetry control by humans is also a goal for operations, such as convoys.

“The Army is not going to buy a large ground robot, but we are very interested in turning any vehicle we have into a large ground robot” to meet the requirements of individual commanders, Dyess said.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Technology, Unmanned Systems, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

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