Defense Department to put $4 billion into UAVs

The Defense Department plans to spend up to $4 billion between now and 2010 to develop and build unmanned aerial vehicles, the agency announced today.

The remotely piloted aircraft will be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and air strike capabilities, Defense Department documents. The plans detail the Defense Department's development of UAVs over the next 25 years.

"The potential value UAVs offer range across virtually every mission area and capability of interest to DoD," said Dyke Weatherington, deputy of the UAV planning task force at the Defense Department. "When we remove the human from the vehicle, we open up a range of possibilities that was never possible when we had humans on board."

Today, about 90 UAVs are in use by the military, not including small-scale systems used in niche applications, Weatherington said. The Defense Department expects to have 350 UAVs by 2010.

There are eight types of UAVs in use, Weatherington said. The Air Force's Predator and Global Hawk models have been deployed in Afghanistan, mostly for reconnaissance, although some of the Predators have been retrofitted with Hellfire missiles. A Predator-fired Hellfire was used to kill one of al Qaeda's top lieutenants in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.

The Global Hawk relies mostly on an onboard computer to control flight, while the Predator is flown remotely by a flight crew on the ground.

Boeing Co. is developing and testing X-45 combat aircraft that promise to have stealth capabilities and be able to go into dangerous areas and destroy targets.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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