Well, it seems like the Pentagon’s excitement in drones has officially kicked off the ‘drone era.’
According to a new report published by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, the Department of Defense (DoD) has requested approximately three times as many new air, ground, and sea drones for the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, as it did in 2018. The ‘drone era’ is only just beginning.
Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone, says around 3,447 new drones have been requested in the DoD’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2019. Glancing at the numbers, the overall drone budget has increased +26 percent y/y.
Gettinger’s report explains how “the U.S. military is aiming to significantly expand its inventory of small unmanned air systems,” rather than larger legacy drone systems, such as General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper and or Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Current Unmanned Aircraft Procurement Programs
Other Unmanned Systems Procurement
“This is the biggest we have seen in years that we have tracked it,” said Gettinger. This year, the DoD has requested approximately $9.39 billion for drone spending and other related technologies for the FY 2019 budget, which is a “significant expansion” in spending over the $7.5 billion in 2018.
“We’ve seen budget hover in the 4-6 billion annual range since fiscal year 2013,” Gettinger added. “A budget for just over 9 billion for unmanned systems, that’s a pretty substantial increase.”
Here is how the estimated $9.39 billion in drone spending for the Fiscal Year 2019 would be allocated across the United States Armed Forces.
“This year the Navy has just skyrocketed past the Air Force,” said Gettinger. According to the figure above, the new budget request shows a $982 million request for maritime drone systems, which represents a 391% increase from last years budget. “Congress has taken a dim view of unmanned maritime projects in the past and has cut funding for some of those,” he added. That is indeed not the case today, as Trump’s nest of war hawks is driving the United States towards an unavoidable military conflict with Russia, Syria, and or Iran.
Gettinger highlights the key takeaways from the budget request:
- A preliminary review of the Department of Defense’s budget request for FY 2019 finds approximately $9.39 billion in drone-related procurement, research and development, and construction funding, 26 percent more than the FY 2018 request;
- The FY 2019 request contains orders for at least 3,447 new unmanned air, ground, and sea systems, a threefold increase over the FY 2018 request;
- The FY 2019 request also contains orders for 1,618 Switchblade loitering munitions—the largest to date— and 532 other unmanned systems such as aerostats and target drones;
- Compared to the FY 2018 request, Navy funding for unmanned systems increased by approximately $1 billion (38 percent) and Army funding increased by $719 million (73 percent);
- Funding for the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper, which remains the single largest drone budget item, grew by over $200 million, from $1.23 billion to $1.44 billion;
- A more than $500 million boost to the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray research and development program is the single greatest contributor to the overall increase in drone spending;
- The Army and Navy intend to initiate the procurement of new unmanned ground and sea vehicles and have increased funding for the development of larger, more autonomous drones;
- Funding for counter-drone systems—including a shipboard laser—continues to rise, growing by 99 percent to around $1.05 billion;
- The Pentagon has introduced new research programs that address autonomy and artificial intelligence and has boosted funding for Project Maven, an artificial intelligence program, by 81 percent to over $100 million.
At A Glance: Proposed U.S. Military Drone Spending In Fiscal Year 2019
Gettinger describes how the DoD is rapidly expanding its fleet of smaller drones for the battlefield:
“In the Fiscal Year 2019 proposed budget, the U.S. military is aiming to significantly expand its inventory of small unmanned air systems. After years of budget stagnation for small unmanned aircraft programs, each of the military services is directing fresh funding streams both to “legacy” small drones like the AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven and to new procurement projects. The procurement budget for small drones is around $279 million, up from $89 million in the FY 2018 request and $136 million in the FY 2017 appropriation. These funds will be used to procure approximately 3,070* new small drones. This is the greatest quantity of drones the Pentagon has purchased in at least six years. The last significant order of small drones was in FY 2012, when the Army ordered over 1,100 RQ-11 Raven drones.
The reason for the surge in drone orders is twofold: to fill existing requirement gaps and to modernize the military’s fleets of small drones. To meet the former, the Army and the Air Force have budgeted for new AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven and RQ-20B Puma systems, which will be put to use for specialized missions like base perimeter security and training partner forces. To modernize, the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command are looking to significantly expand the number and diversity of small unmanned aircraft. Most existing small unmanned aircraft in the U.S. military’s inventory are fixed-wing systems that are battalion-level assets designed for short- to medium-range reconnaissance. These new procurement efforts are aimed at smaller, lighter, and more agile unmanned aircraft that utilize advances in commercial off-the-shelf drone technology. DoD is looking specifically at drones that can improve the situational awareness of small units and that are able to perform complex missions in urban environments such as reconnoitering a building. The FY 2019 budget contains the first significant steps toward meeting these goals. In the coming years, DoD is expected to purchase thousands more small drones for these programs.”
Furthermore, the DoD proposed to nearly double its spending on counter-drone systems through various tools to shoot down rogue enemy drones. Much of the increase is coming from the Army’s “Low-slow-small Integrated Defense System” (LIDS), which resemble a guided missile.
“The DoD’s counter-drone budget rose from $528.8 million in the FY 2018 request to $1.05 billion in the FY 2019 proposal—$468.8 million in procurement and $583.9 in research and development.”
“The military is taking a lot of different approaches to solving counter-drone issue,” Gettinger said. “Some of that involves outfitting existing defense systems with [counter-drone] capability and some of it involves thinking about how UAS threat can evolve in the future.”
And lastly, The Military Times summarizes their take on the Center for the Study of the Drone report: an “invaluable guide” detailing the Pentagon’s shift to “smaller and more numerous and better dispersed” drones for the battlefield of tomorrow.
“It’s hard to say how much of this request will make it through Congress. Yet as a statement of where the Pentagon wants to go, it’s an invaluable guide. By piecing together the whole of the drone budget, the Center finds a pivotal moment, where drones are smaller and more numerous and better dispersed, and distributed too among boats and in submarines and driving on the ground and carried in backpacks. Drones are a big part of how every service sees war in the future playing out, and from cheap scouts in the field to elaborate lasers built to shoot down hostile drones, the notion that drone war is a separable part of warfighting can largely be laid to rest. Drones are an evergreen part of war, now.”
War is nearing…