Report: Unmanned systems require greater integration

The Defense Department's new long-term road map for development of unmanned systems is the first to include unmanned aircraft, vehicle and marine systems into a single comprehensive plan. Current estimates show the combined global market for such systems could reach at least $19 billion by 2020.

DOD released its 188-page Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032 on Dec. 18.

Previously, Pentagon planning focused primarily on unmanned aircraft systems, which make up the bulk of unmanned systems' funding, but there is a need for more integration of systems, Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of the department's Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force, said at a news conference Dec. 18.

"It is the department's firm belief that the integration of all the unmanned domains, air, ground and sea, are the future of DOD integrated operations, not only from a systems perspective but from a joint service perspective and, in many cases, a coalition perspective," Weatherington said.

Markets for all types of unmanned systems are rapidly growing. The market for unmanned aircraft is expected to triple to $9 billion within a decade, up from $3 billion currently, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a nonprofit trade association, said in a report in December.

In a separate report in March 2007, research firm Visiongain said it expects the global market for unmanned undersea vehicles to expand to $8.9 billion by 2020, and the global demand for unmanned ground vehicles to increase to $1.35 billion by 2020.

DOD's road map lays out six goals to help make unmanned systems more autonomous, standardized and interoperable while also supporting innovation:
  • Improve integration and Joint Services collaboration supporting unmanned systems;
  • Achieve greater interoperability between system controls, communications, data products and data links on unmanned systems;
  • Develop policies, standards and procedures that enable safe and timely operations and the effective integration of manned and unmanned systems;
  • Implement standardized and protected controls for unmanned systems;
  • Support a more flexible process for prototyping, testing and logistically supporting unmanned systems in combat; and
  • Control costs by using competition, refining and prioritizing requirements, and increasing interdependencies (networking) among DOD systems.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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