Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress
CRS Report for Congress
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles:
Background and Issues for Congress
Updated November 21, 2005
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles:
Background and Issues for Congress
The war on terrorism has put a high premium on a primary mission of UAVs,
intelligence gathering. Furthermore, the military effectiveness of UAVs in recent
conflicts such as Iraq (1990) and Kosovo (1999) opened the eyes of many to both the
advantages and disadvantages provided by unmanned aircraft. Long relegated to the
sidelines in military operations, UAVs are now making national headlines as they are
used in ways normally reserved for manned aircraft. Conventional wisdom states
that UAVs offer two main advantages over manned aircraft: they are considered
more cost-effective, and they minimize the risk to a pilot’s life. However, the current
UAV accident rate (the rate at which the aircraft are lost or damaged) is 100 times
that of manned aircraft.
UAVs range from the size of an insect to that of a commercial airliner. DOD
currently possesses five major UAVs: the Air Force’s Predator and Global Hawk,
the Navy and Marine Corps’s Pioneer, and the Army’s Hunter and Shadow. Other
key UAV developmental efforts include the Air Force and Navy’s unmanned combat
air vehicle (UCAV), Navy’s vertical takeoff and landing UAV (VTUAV), and the
Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV(BAMS), and the Marine Corps’s Dragon
Eye and Dragon Warrior. The services continue to be innovative in their use of
UAVs. Recent examples include arming UAVs (Predator, Hunter), using UAVs to
extend the eyes of submarines, and teaming UAVs with strike aircraft and armed
helicopters to improve targeting.
In the past, tension has existed between the services’ efforts to acquire UAVs
and congressional initiatives to encourage a consolidated DOD approach. Some
observers argue that the result has been a less than stellar track record for the UAV.
However, reflecting the growing awareness and support in Congress and the
Department of Defense for UAVs, investments in unmanned aerial vehicles have
been increasing every year. DoD spending on UAVs has increased from $284
million in Fiscal Year 2000 to $2.1 billion in FY2005.
Congressional considerations include the proper pace, scope, and management
of DoD UAV procurement; appropriate investment priorities for UAVs versus
manned aircraft; UAV future roles and applications; personnel issues; industrial base
issues; and technology proliferation. This report will be updated as necessary.
Pace of UAV Acquisition and Scope of Missions or Applications........4
UAV Management Issues.......................................9
UAVs and Investment Priorities.................................14
UAV Roles and Applications....................................27
Recruitment and Retention.....................................33
Industrial Base Considerations...................................35
UAV Proliferation and Export Control Considerations................37
Current DOD UAV Programs.......................................38
Mission and Payload......................................39
Mission and Payload......................................43
RQ-4 Global Hawk...........................................44
Mission and Payload......................................45
RQ-5A Hunter / MQ-5B Hunter II................................48
Mission and Payload......................................48
Mission and Payload......................................49
Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS)....................51
Potential Mission and Payload...............................52
RQ-8B Fire Scout............................................53
System Characteristics and Mission..........................53
Figure 1. Current and Planned UAV Programs..........................5
Figure 2. Manned Aircraft Inventory vs. UAV Inventory...................7
Figure 7. ISR UAV Characteristics...................................29
List of Tables
Table 1. UAV Platforms............................................5
Table 2. Select Mishap Rates.......................................23
Table 3. Autonomous Capability Levels (ACL).........................25
Table 4. ISR UAVs with E-O/IR Sensors..............................28
Table 5. Predator A & B Combined Funding...........................42
Table 6. Pioneer Funding..........................................44
Table 7. Global Hawk Funding......................................47
Table 8. RQ-7 Shadow Funding.....................................50
Table 9. J-UCAS Funding..........................................53
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles:
Background and Issues for Congress
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been referred to in many ways: RPVs
(remotely piloted vehicle), drones, robot planes, and pilotless aircraft are a few of the
terms that have been used. Most often called UAVs, they are defined by the
Department of Defense (DOD) as powered, aerial vehicles that do not carry a human
operator, use aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be
piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or
nonlethal payload. Ballistic or semiballistic vehicles, cruise missiles, and artillery
projectiles are not considered UAVs by the DOD definition.1 Drones differ from
RPVs in that they are designed to fly autonomously. UAVs are either described as
a single air vehicle (with associated surveillance sensors), or a UAV system (UAS),
which usually consists of three to six air vehicles, a ground control station, and
The military use of UAVs in recent conflicts such as Iraq (2003), Afghanistan
(2001), and Kosovo (1999) has opened the eyes of many to the advantages and
disadvantages provided by unmanned aircraft. UAVs regularly make national
headlines as they are used to perform tasks historically performed by manned aircraft.
UAVs are thought to offer two main advantages over manned aircraft: they eliminate
the risk to a pilot’s life, and their aeronautical capabilities, such as endurance, are not
bound by human limitations. UAVs may also be cheaper to procure and operate than
manned aircraft. UAVs protect the lives of pilots by performing the “3-D” missions -
those dull, dirty, or dangerous missions that do not require a pilot in the cockpit.
However, the lower procurement cost of UAVs must be weighed against their greater
proclivity to crash, while the minimized risk should be weighed against the dangers
inherent in having an unmanned vehicle flying in airspace shared with manned assets.
There are a number of reasons why the employment of UAVs has recently
grown. Navigation and communication technology is now available that wasn’t
available just a few short years ago. Some say that the services’ so-called “silk scarf
syndrome” of preferring manned aviation over unmanned, has diminished as UAVs
entered the mainstream.
Although only recently procured in significant numbers by the United States,
UAVs have had a century-old history in aviation. First included in Jane’s All the
World’s Aircraft in 1920, UAVs were tested during World War I, but not used in
combat by the United States during that war. However, it was not until the Vietnam
1 Joint Publication 1-02, “DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms.”
War that UAVs such as the AQM-34 Firebee were used in a surveillance role. The
Firebee exemplifies the versatility of UAVs — initially flown in the 1970s, it was
modified to deliver payloads and flew its first flight test as an armed UAV on
December 20, 2002.2
The Israeli Air Force pioneered several UAVs in the late 1970s and 1980s that
were eventually integrated into the United States’s UAV inventory. U.S. observers
noticed Israel’s successful use of UAVs during operations in Lebanon in 1982,
encouraging then-Navy Secretary John Lehman to acquire a UAV capability for the
Navy. Interest also grew in other parts of the Pentagon, and the Reagan
Administration’s FY1987 budget requested notably higher levels of UAV funding.3
This marked the transition of UAVs in the United States from experimental projects
to acquisition programs.
One of the UAVs acquired from Israel, Pioneer, emerged as a useful source of
intelligence at the tactical level during Operation Desert Storm. Pioneer was used by
Navy battleships to locate Iraqi targets for its 16-inch guns. Following the Gulf War,
military officials recognized the potential value of UAVs, and the Air Force’s
Predator became a UAV on a fast track, quickly adding new capabilities.4 Debuting
in the Balkans conflict, the Predator performed surveillance missions such as
monitoring area roads for weapons movements and conducting battle damage
assessment. Operations in Afghanistan have featured the Air Force’s Global Hawk,
as well as adding a new mission for Predator that allows the UAV to live up to its
name — armed reconnaissance. There are currently five major UAVs in the U.S.
inventory: the Navy and Marine Corps’s Pioneer, the Air Force’s Global Hawk and
Predator, and the Army’s Hunter and Shadow UAVs.
Reflecting a growing awareness and support in Congress for UAVs, investment
in unmanned aerial vehicles has increased annually. The FY2001 investment in
UAVs was approximately $667 million, while the FY2003 funding totaled over $1.1
billion dollars. The Pentagon has asked for $1.6 billion in procurement and
development funding for FY2006, with much more planned for the out years.
Congress’s role in UAV development has been one of strong encouragement
tempered with concern. Taking a proactive stance in UAV program management,
Congress has in the past directed the formation of joint program offices to ensure
commonality between the services’ UAV programs. Congress has also expressed
concern that DOD’s “growing enthusiasm may well lead to a situation in which there
is no clear path toward the future of UAVs”, and so has required DOD to submit a
2 Jefferson Morris. “Northrop Grumman Modifies BQM-34 Firebee To Drop Payloads.”
Aerospace Daily, January 22, 2003.
3 For more on the early history of UAV use, CRS Report 93-686 F, Intelligence Technology
in the Post-Cold War Era: The Role of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), by Richard A.
Best, Jr., 1993, p. 7-10, is available from author on request.
4 Jim Garamone. “From U.S. Civil War To Afghanistan: A Short History Of UAVs.”
American Forces Information Service, Defenselink.mil, April 16, 2002.
UAV roadmap.5 In some instances, Congress has advocated a more aggressive
approach to fielding UAVs. For example, in 1996, the House Armed Services
Committee (HASC) supported legislation directing DOD to weaponize both the
Predator and Hunter, but DOD opposed the initiative.6 The scope of Congress’s
support and confidence in UAV technology can be gleaned from a prediction in the
report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001,
which stated that, “Within ten years, one-third of U.S. military operational deep
strike aircraft will be unmanned.”7
In recent years, the pace of UAV development has accelerated, and the scope of
UAV missions and applications has expanded. How should these efforts be managed
so that they are cost-efficient, effective, and interoperable? In its eagerness to deploy
UAVs, does DoD risk duplication of effort between various programs? Are DOD
UAV acquisition plans responsive to congressional direction?
Investment priorities could change as the introduction of UAVs into the U.S.
inventory shifts the balance between manned and unmanned capabilities. Congress,
as part of its defense oversight responsibilities, may assess DOD’s current UAV
efforts to verify that they match up with new investment goals and strategies.
Conventional wisdom states that UAVs are cheap, or cost-effective. Is this true
today? How do UAV costs compare to manned aircraft costs?
UAVs have traditionally been used for reconnaissance and surveillance, but
today they are being employed in roles and applications that their designers never
envisioned. The unanticipated flexibility and capability of UAVs has led some
analysts to suggest that more, if not most, of the missions currently undertaken by
manned aircraft could be turned over to unmanned aerial platforms, and that manned
and unmanned aircraft could operate together. Congress may have to contemplate
the replacement of a significant portion of the manned aircraft fleet with unmanned
aircraft that have yet to be designed.
The defining characteristic of UAVs is that they are “unmanned.” If UAVs are
introduced into the force in large numbers, might personnel issues arise?
Recruitment and retention is a perennial congressional issue, that may be receiving
increased attention due to the operational stresses associated with the Global War on
Terrorism. What impact might wide spread deployment of UAVs have on military
5 U.S. Congress, 2d Session, House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations,
Department of Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2003, H.Rept. 107-532, p.207.
6 Hearing of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services
Committee. “Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles and
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Programs.” March 26, 2003.
7 U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d Session, Senate, Committee on Armed Services,
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, S.Rept 106-292, p.141.
Industrial base issues also need to be considered. If defense companies devote
more of their time and expenses to develop unmanned aircraft, will the skills and
technologies needed for manned aircraft design erode? Those who argue that UAVs
will replace manned aircraft in the future are not as concerned with the industrial
base issue as those who feel manned aircraft will still be needed to combat future
As U.S. companies compete for business in a growing international UAV
marketplace, concerns about the proliferation of these systems may grow. Are steps
required — and if so, what might they be — to control the spread of UAVs? As part
of its defense and foreign policy oversight, Congress may examine whether a balance
must be struck between supporting legitimate U.S. exports and curbing the spread of
UAV technologies to dangerous groups or countries.
Pace of UAV Acquisition and Scope of Missions or
Undeniably, UAVs are being developed, procured and fielded in growing
numbers. The diversity of designs and applications is also accelerating. Considering
this growth, many in Congress may wish to evaluate the management of UAVs: Are
UAVs being developed fast enough? Are they being developed too fast? Has DoD
developed an appropriate plan and structure for incorporating UAVs into future
UAV programs range from the combat tested — Pioneer, Hunter, Predator and
Global Hawk — to the not yet tested — the Air Force and Navy’s Unmanned
Combat Air Vehicles. Sizes and ranges of UAVs also vary greatly: the Wasp Micro
UAV at 8 inches long has a combat radius of 5 nautical miles, while the Global
Hawk at 44 feet long (the size of a medium sized corporate jet) has a combat radius
of 5,400 nm. Figure 1 shows the evolution of UAVs and demonstrates the recent8
initiation of several UAV programs.
Similarly, Table 1 outlines the total UAV inventory.9 When compared to the
inventory of February 2003,which only included five major platforms yeilding an
inventory of 163 unmanned aircraft, the acceleration and expansion becomes clear.
The 604 UAVs includes many 2nd generation derivatives, such as Predator B and I-
Gnat-ER, and several non-traditional vehicles, such as Snow Goose, Onyx and
8 For a more comprehensive treatment of these UAV programs, see the “Current DoD UAV
Programs” section below.
9 Note that to avoid accounting issues, these inventories do not include small UAVs, micro
UAVs or lighter-than-air platforms.
Figure 1. Current and Planned UAV Programs
Source: OSD, UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, Section 2, p. 3.
Table 1. UAV Platforms
UAVUser or Sponsor Estimated Inventory(Feb 05)
Predator AAir Force120
Predator BAir Force6
Global HawkAir Force/Navy12
Fire ScoutNavy/Marine Corps5
Hummi ngbi r d Ar my/ Na vy/ DARPA 4
Neptune SOCOM-Navy 15
Maverick SOCOM-Ar my/Navy 4
CQ-10 Snow GooseSOCOM-Army 15
Source: OSD, UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005; Safety and accident reports from each
Note: For comparison purposes, table does not include Mini/Small, Micro, or Lighter-than-Air UAVs.
a. Estimate Inventories calculated by subtracting number of UAVs lost to attrition from the total
number of UAVs delivered. Attrition numbers were taken from Class A accidents reported by
each service; Total UAVs delivered for each platform were drawn from the OSD’s UAS
Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005.
The increase in DoD’s UAV inventory appears largely due to the rising demand
for UAVs to conduct a wide variety of missions and to branch out from the typical
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) applications. Predator B is
equipped with a strike capability, and many Predator As have been modified to carry
weapons. The Joint-Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) final product will
target air defenses (missiles, artillery, air bases, and command-and-control facilities).
Additionally, mine detection, border patrol, medical resupply, and force perimeter
protection are increasingly considered as roles for UAVs.10
DOD’s UAV research and development (R&D) funding has also grown, for a
variety of reasons: UAVs are considered a growth industry, many UAVs are
relatively inexpensive to produce and new technology in miniaturization has helped
accelerate the development of many UAV types. R&D funding in FY2006 for UAVs
is more than double the total procurement funding for UAVs. This suggests that
accelerated acquisition of UAVs is likely to continue in the future.
In order to understand fully the pace and scope of UAV acquisition, a
comparison between manned aircraft inventories and unmanned inventories may
prove to be a useful tool. Figure 2 shows the ratio of manned to unmanned aircraft.
Despite the recent acceleration in UAV production, manned aircraft still represent
95% of all DoD aircraft, which suggests that UAVs replacing manned aircraft in the
foreseeable future is not likely. Rather UAV programs have quite frequently been
described as complements to, or augmentation of manned aircraft.
As it appears from statements and internal recommendations, the pace of UAV
production will either continue or accelerate in the coming years. When asked to
study DoD’s UAV programs, the Defense Science Board (DSB) found that “the
single most important recommendation is to accelerate the introduction of UAVs into11
the force structure.”
10 For an more in-depth analysis of UAV capabilities, see Role and Applications in the later
end of this section.
11 Defense Science Board Study on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Uninhabited Combat
Aerial Vehicles. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and
Logistics. February 2004. p.V.
Figure 2. Manned Aircraft Inventory vs. UAV
12,229 Manned Aircraft
Source: The Military Balance 2004-2005; 2005-2030 UAS Roadmap
Further, some describe Air Force plans to grow UAV operations in the Air
National Guard and Air Force Reserve as a “massive introduction” of the12
technology. Former Air Force Chief of Staff, General John Jumper indicated a
significantly faster pace of production of UAVs, specifically of the Predator, when
he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “we’re going to tell General Atomics
to build every Predator they can possibly build.”13
These statements raise the question of whether the current and anticipated pace
of UAV development is appropriate. Historically, Congress has chastened DoD for
what it saw as a leisurely rate of UAV acquisition and encouraged it to speed up this
pace, or speed up the incorporation of certain capabilities. For example, the National
Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 expressed the Senate’s desire that
“Within ten years, one-third of U.S. military operational deep strike aircraft will be
unmanned.”14 This goal was seen at the time as very challenging, because DoD had
no unmanned deep strike aircraft. In 1996, the House Armed Services Committee
(HASC) supported legislation directing DoD to weaponize both the Predator and
12 David Fulghum. “Rapid Expansion of UAV Units Planned.” Aviation Week & Space
Technology. September 26, 2005.
13 Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The Defense Fiscal Year 2006
Budget.” February 10, 2005. Federal News Service.
14 U.S. Congress, 106th Congress, 2d Session, Senate, Committee on Armed Services,
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, S.Rept 106-292, p.141.
Hunter, but DoD opposed the initiative.15 Some in the 109th Congress have
advocated increased procurement and application of UAVs for non-military roles.
For example, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Representative Peter
King was reported to have said that UAVs are “‘underutilized’ by the Department of
Homeland Security, and should play a larger role in border security.”16
On the other hand, Congress has also expressed concern that DoD’s “growing
enthusiasm may well lead to a situation in which there is no clear path toward the
future of UAVs.”17 Some critics have expressed concern that an overly ambitious
pace could affect the quality of the end product and the efficiency of the acquisition
process. A fast pace could make congressional oversight much more difficult, which
could allow UAV programs to exceed cost or to stray from the design objective. As
Representative Curt Weldon cautioned,
Aggressively fielding new types of vehicles and even building more of the
same type of vehicle may be premature. We must feel confident that we
have adequately addressed some of the fundamentals to ensure that
unmanned air systems are designed and fielded consistent with the common
communications architecture and that common standards are established for
operations. ... Some services are buying million dollar UAVs using
operations and maintenance funding that has never been specifically
authorized for UAVs and for which appropriations have never been made.
... Other services are leasing UAV services for combat operations using
operations and maintenance accounts. And some services have effectively
reduced congressional oversight by establishing UAV projects within18
multi-billion dollar, multi-project aggregated program requests.
The Global Hawk’s ambitious pace may be an example of the dilemma
Representative Weldon described. A 2004 Government Accountability Office
(GAO) report cites a crowded production schedule and aggressive funding strategy
as one reason for the “immaturity” of several critical technologies for the Global19
Hawk program. The report indicates that a deceleration of pace — possibly even
a temporary halt in production — must be coupled with management changes in
order to preserve the quality and efficiency of the Global Hawk development process.
Many, in DoD and in Congress, may argue that the pace is appropriate and the Global
15 Hearing of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services
Committee. “Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles and
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Programs.” March 26, 2003.
16 George Cahlink. “New Homeland Security Chairman Sees Larger Role for UAVs in
Border Security.” Defense Daily. October 14, 2005.
17 U.S. Congress, 2d Session, House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations,
Department of Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2003, H.Rept. 107-532, p.207.
18 Rep. Curt Weldon. “House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land
Forces Holds Hearing on FY2006 Defense Budget.” House of Representatives. March 9,
19 Government Accountability Office. “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Changes in Global
Hawk’s Acquisition Strategy Are Needed to Reduce Program Risks.” GAO -05-6. November
Hawk’s problems are exceptional. They could argue that the rapid rate of production
of the Hunter in the past and the Predator currently are evidence that a fast pace can
be extremely efficient and produce high quality aircraft.
While supporting UAV programs in general, and even challenging DoD to
pursue UAVs more aggressively, many in Congress appear to want assurances that
tax-payer dollars are being well spent. For example, Section 142 of the FY2006
Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1815, H. Rept. 109-89, p.123) “would preclude
procurement of new unmanned aerial vehicle systems by the military services without
the written approval of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology,
UAV Management Issues
In addition to establishing acquisition pace, and scope of application, one crucial
Congressional task may be to determine whether DoD’s administrative processes and
lines of authority within the acquisition process are effective for UAV development
and acquisition. The management of DoD’s development and acquisition programs
has received heightened attention in the 108th and 109th Congresses. The Air Force’s
attempt to lease 100 KC-767 tanker aircraft, and many aspects of the Army’s Future
Combat System (FCS) have focused congressional scrutiny on the mechanics of
DoD’s acquisition process.20 Because UAVs are acquired by all four of the military
services, and the U.S. Special Operations Command, and because UAVs appear to
be acquired at an accelerated rate, and for a growing list of applications, it appears
that great potential exists for duplication of effort. This leads many to call for
centralization of UAV acquisition authority, to ensure unity of effort, and reduce
chances for wasteful duplication of effort. On the other hand, if UAV efforts are too
centralized, some fear that competition and innovation may be repressed.
Another management issue pertains to cost. UAVs are developed and procured
through the same acquisition system as manned aircraft, and they appear to suffer
from similar cost growth. Once viewed as a cheap alternative to manned aircraft, or
even a “poor man’s airforce,” some UAVs are beginning to rival manned aircraft in
cost. According to DoD’s most recent estimate, the Global Hawk program will cost
$6.5 billion to purchase 51 aircraft; a program unit acquisition cost of $128 million
per UAV. The program has seen $194 million in development cost overruns,
triggering a Nunn-McCurdy breach due to an average unit cost growth of 18 percent
per airframe and has prompted appropriators to voice their concern (H.R. 2863, 109-
20 See, for example, CRS Report RL32056, The Air Force KC-767 Tanker Lease Proposal:
Key Issues For Congress, by Christopher Bolkcom (coordinator) and CRS Report RL32888,
The Army’s Future Combat System (FCS): Background and Issues for Congress, by Andrew
21 The Nunn-McCurdy provision requires DoD to notify Congress when cost growth on a
major acquisition program reaches 15%. If the cost growth hits 25%, Nunn-McCurdy
requires DoD to justify continuing the program based on three main criteria: its importance
to U.S. national security; the lack of a viable alternative; and evidence that the problems that
Much of UAV cost growth appears to be attributable to factors that have
plagued manned aircraft programs, such as “mission creep,” and inconsistent
management practices. Global Hawk costs, for example, have been driven up by
adding multiple sensors, which themselves increase cost, but also require larger
wings and more powerful engines to carry the increased weight, which also increases
cost. Originally, Global Hawk was intended to carry one primary kind of sensor at
a time, a fleet of these UAVs would provide a mix of sensors. To make Global
Hawk more analogous to the U-2 aircraft, DoD changed the requirement so that
Global Hawk is to carry two or more primary sensors, which has increased the
Originally considered a relatively modest UAV, the Joint Unmanned Combat
Air System (JUCAS) has evolved into a large, long range aircraft with a heavy
payload, which has increased cost. Further, DoD has cut over $1 billion from the
JUCAS budget, and has moved management of the program from the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the Air Force. Cutting the JUCAS
budget topline may reduce the total number or aircraft to be procured, but can also
increase the cost per aircraft. Changing management responsibility can also
contribute to cost growth via a lack of coherent direction, and changes in
requirements and priority.
The frequent change and realignment of DoD’s organizations with a role in
UAV development illustrates the difficulties of establishing a comprehensive UAV
management system. Over the years, management of UAV programs has gone full
circle from the military services, to a Navy-run Joint Program Office (JPO), to the
Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO) and then back to the services,
under the auspices of OSD. The JPO was established in 1988, but met criticism in
Congress. In 1992, Congress expressed its...
serious reservations over the management of these [UAV] programs by the joint
program office. Remarkably little progress has been registered during the past
five years in this area. The conferees believe the Secretary of Defense should23
undertake a comprehensive review of the joint [project] office.
The JPO was replaced by the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office
(DARO), created in 1993 to more effectively manage DoD’s disparate airborne
reconnaissance programs, including UAVs. DARO was disbanded in 1998, amid
further criticism of problems, redesigns, and accidents with the family of systems that
led to the cost growth are under control. H.R. 1815 (P.L. 109-89 sec. 802) would amend
Nunn-McCurdy to lower the cost-growth threshold for providing detailed information on
problem programs from 25 to 15 percent.
22 For more information, see CRS Report RL30727: Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and
Reconnaissance (ISR): The U-2 Aircraft and Global Hawk UAV Programs, by Richard A.
Best, Jr. and Christopher Bolkcom.
23 U.S. Congress, 102d Congress, 2d Session, Committee of Conference, National Defense
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1993, H.Rept. 102-966, p.635.
it was formed to develop.24 It is unclear whether this criticism was completely
legitimate, or whether it was generated by advocates of manned aviation, who sought
to protect these established programs.
Since DARO’s demise, there has been no single procurement focal point to
manage DOD UAV efforts. General oversight authority resides within the Office of
the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and
Intelligence (OASD(C3I)), while the military services manage program development
In an effort to increase joint coordination of UAV programs operated by the
services, the OSD established the Joint UAV Planning Task Force in 2001. The task
force, which falls under the authority of the Pentagon’s acquisition chief (Under
Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics), works to help
standardize payload development, establish uniform interfaces, and promote a
common vision for future UAV-related efforts. Subsequently, the Joint UAV
Planning Task Force has been viewed by many in the defense community as the top
rung on the UAV management ladder. Dr. Glenn Lamartin, Director of Defense
Systems in the OSD, argued that the Joint UAV Task Force was empowered through
the Joint Staff to institute requirements, satisfy joint needs and to provide discipline
and structure to individual programs.25 In order to help a common UAV vision
become a reality, the task force has, through the OSD, published three UAV
Roadmaps: April 2001, December 2002, and August 2005.
In spite of the creation of the UAV Task Force, Congressional concerns with
UAV acquisition management, program duplication, interoperability, and other issues
continued. For example, in 2002, the House Committee on Armed Services noted:
“The committee expresses its concern about proper program management elsewhere
in this report, and is specifically concerned that UAV programs adhere to the same
standards as other acquisition programs.”26
Several other management mechanisms have recently been initiated in addition
to the UAV Task Force. In 2003 the U.S. Joint Forces Command announced that it
would take the lead in conducting experimentation in UAV interoperability and
flexibility for the Joint UAV Task Force.27 Also in 2003, DoD created the UAV
Interoperability Working Group to pursue joint-service and international cooperation
in UAV programs to support systems development. The Joint Requirement
24 Bill Sweetman. “DARO Leaves A Solid Legacy,” Journal of Electronic Defense, June
25 Glenn LaMartin, testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical
Air and Land Forces. “House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land
Forces Holds Hearing on FY2006 Defense Budget.” U.S. House of Representatives, March
26 U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 2nd Session, House of Representatives, Committee on
Armed Services, Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2003,
H.Rept. 107-436, p.243.
27 Jefferson Morris. “JFCOM Taking Lead Role in Joint UAV Experimentation.” Aerospace
Daily. July 18, 2003.
Oversight Council (JROC), which “reviews operational requirements representing
the interests of the operational or warfighting community” and its combatant
commanders,28 established a UAV Special Studies Group, which serves as the staff-
level advisory and action organization concerning all UAV issues under JROC’s
In what appeared to be a move toward further management restructuring, reports
in the spring of 2005 indicated that OSD was considering appointing one of the
services as the executive agent and coordinator for UAV programs, a position for
which Air Force actively petitioned.30 However, in late June 2005, the JROC
announced that DoD had abandoned the notion of an executive agent in favor of two
smaller organizations focusing on interoperability.31 The first, entitled the Joint UAV
Overarching Integrated Product Team (OIPT), provides a forum for identification and
problem solving of major interoperability and standardization issues between the
services.32 In compliment, the Joint UAV Center of Excellence coordinates with the
OIPT to improve interoperability and enhance UAV applications through the
examination of sensor technologies, UAV intelligence collection assets, system
technologies, training and tactics.33
Over the past three years, management initiatives to increase system uniformity
and interoperability have been equally as numerous as the overall management
structure initiatives. Most recently, JROC established two organizations to promote
joint coordination of production.
The constant organizational changes has led to mounting concern over UAV
management. These fluctuations suggest that DoD has not yet landed on a final UAV
development and oversight structure to meet the needs of the military. Instead, the
recent establishment of the Joint UAV OIPT and Joint UAV COE have lead many
to believe that these bodies are not a final solution, but a step in the right direction.
The March 2005 testimony by the GAO to the House Armed Services Subcommittee
on Tactical Air and Land Forces most likely played a role in facilitating the OSD’s
creation of these management groups. The testimony criticized DoD for the lack of
an “...oversight body to guide UAV development efforts and related investment
decisions,” which ultimately does not allow DoD “...to make sound program
28 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquistion & Technology) (OUSD(A&T))
Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO). “UAV Management and Oversight.”
UAV Annual Report FY1997, [http://www.fas.org].
30 John A. Tirpak. “The UAV Skirmishes.” Air Force Magazine. June 2005, pg. 11.
31 “JROC Cans UAV Executive Agent Idea, Back Joint Excellence Center.” Inside the
Pentagon. June 30, 2005.
32 Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, “Joint Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle Team, Center of Excellence Announced.” July 8, 2005.
decisions or establish funding priorities."34 From the testimony, it would appear that
the GAO envisioned a central authority or body to satisfy this role. However, DoD’s
intended purpose for this oversight body may differ from the GAO’s concept. Air
Force Major General Stephen M. Goldfein, commander of the Air Warfare Center
at Nellis Air Force Base, NV, described the UAV Center of Excellence as a
“...one-stop shop that takes a look at all the possibilities for common operating
systems and the best ways to use UAVs”.35 If the intent of these bodies are simply
to serve as ‘one-stop’ checkpoints in the UAV development process instead of the
centralized monitoring and oversight authority envisioned by the GAO, then
questions may arise over where the final management authority resides — within
these bodies or with each of the services? The task of finding adequate answers to
these problems may fall on the shoulders of Congress in the coming years.
Outside of the current management structure, does our defense establishment
have an adequate plan or framework for how UAVs will fit into the future of U.S.
warfighting? The Joint UAV Task Force released in 2001 and 2002 the UAV
Roadmap and a follow up in 2005, entitled the 2005-2030 UAS Roadmap for the
purpose of providing guidance on the future roles for UAVs, the technological
progress and opportunities for UAVs, and the potential UAV investment needs. In
March of 2005, prior to the release of the updated UAS Roadmap, the GAO called
upon the Department of Defense to establish a binding and authoritative strategic
plan, citing the 2002 Roadmap failure to outline the inter-service strategic goals for
UAVs and its lack of clearly defined investment priorities.36
The 2005 UAS Roadmap reiterates its predecessor’s mandate and scope. It
states that its purpose is part of an oversight service in which the intent is to give
strong guidance “...in such cross-program areas as standards development and other
interoperability solutions.”37 Furthermore, the Roadmap neither, “....authorizes
specific UAS nor prioritizes the requirements.... It does, however, identify future
windows when technology should become available to enable new capabilities,
linked to warfighters’ needs, to be incorporated into current or planned UAS.”38 Like
its predecessor, the Roadmap only provides guidance and refrains from establishing
a authoritative blueprint for the future of UAV development paths and approaches.
Most likely, the discrepancy between the DoD’s approach to the Roadmap’s authority
and the GAO’s vision of strategic UAV plan will generate significant debate in the
34 Sharon Pickup and Michael J. Sullivan, written testimony before the House Armed
Services subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Improved Strategic and Acquisition Planning Can Help Address Emerging Challenges.”
Government Accountability Office. GAO-05-395T. March 9, 2005, p. 1.
35 David A. Fulghum. “UAVs, Views From Nellis.”Aviation Week & Space Technology.
September 26, 2005, p. 56.
36 Sharon Pickup and Michael J. Sullivan, written testimony before the House Armed
Services subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Improved Strategic and Acquisition Planning Can Help Address Emerging Challenges.”
Government Accountability Office. GAO-05-395T. March 9, 2005, p. 1.
37 OSD. 2005-2030 UAS Roadmap. August, 2005, p. 1.
discussion of future UAV management. Consequently, in the wake of the
establishment of the Joint UAV OIPT and COE, Congress may decide to revisit the
recommendations of the GAO and to evaluate the adequacy of the Roadmap mandate
in order to determine the best way to integrate UAVs into our future warfighting
UAVs and Investment Priorities
All four military services, the U.S. Special Operations command (SOCOM),
and the U.S. Coast Guard are developing and fielding UAVs. Developing a
coordinated, DOD-wide UAV investment strategy appears key to ensuring
duplication is avoided, and scarce resources are maximized. As part of its defense
oversight role, Congress is positioned to arbitrate between competing UAV
investments, or impact DOD’s overarching investment plan. Several relevant
questions seem apparent: How is UAV cost quantified? What is the most effective
balance in spending between UAVs and manned aircraft? How should DoD,
Congress and the UAV manufacturers balance cost with capability? Finally, what
areas of investment are the most important to maximize UAV capabilities?
Quantifying and characterizing cost has proven to be a complicated task for the
members of the UAV community, yet would need to be assessed in an exploration
of UAV cost efficiency.39 As with most aircraft, UAV costs can be depicted by
different measurements. Two of the most frequently cited cost descriptions are
flyaway cost, and program acquisition unit cost (PAUC). According to the Air
Force’s System Command (AFSC) Cost Estimating Handbook, an air vehicle’s
flyaway cost includes “prime mission equipment (sensor payload, propulsion
mechanics, and body design), systems engineering, program management, and
allowances for engineering changes and warranties.”40 In contrast, the PAUC, as
described by the Government Accountability Office, is the “total of all
acquisition-related appropriations divided by the total quantity of fully configured
end items”, which takes into account acquisition cost from previous years that tend
to be more than the current year acquisition cost.41 The difference between Global
Hawk’s PAUC and flyaway cost demonstrates the wide discrepancy between these
39 UAV cost can either be defined by unit cost of an individual air vehicle, or by system cost.
System cost could include one to six air vehicles, the sensor package, the ground control
station, and various support equipment. Acquisition cost is one measure, to include research
and development and procurement costs, but operation and maintenance (O&M) cost is
another factor. Costs stated are acquisition costs unless otherwise noted.
40 “AFSC Cost Estimating Handbook Series.” Reading, MA. Prepared for the U.S. Air
Forces Systems Command. p. 1986: 217.
41 U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Defense Acquisitions: Information for
Congress on Performance of Major Programs Can Be More Complete, Timely, and
Accessible.” Report to the Subcommittee on Defense, Committee on Appropriations, U.S.
Senate. March 2005, GAO-05-182.
cost descriptions: Global Hawk’s flyaway cost for FY2005 was $64.1 million, while
its PAUC is $128.7 million.42
When compared to other aircraft, the cost of an individual remotely piloted
vehicle can be misleading. UAVs operate as part of a system, which generally
consist of a ground control station, a ground crew including remote pilots and sensor
operators, communication links and often other air vehicles. Unlike a manned aircraft
such as an F-16, these supporting elements are a requisite for the vehicle’s flight.43
Consequently, analysts comparing UAV costs to manned aircraft may need to
consider the cost of the supporting elements and operational infrastructure that make
up the complete unmanned aviation system.
Monitoring or evaluating UAV costs can also be complicated by budgeting
conventions. While UAVs can be found in the “Aircraft Procurement, Air Force”
account in that service’s budget request documentation, the Army includes its UAV
funding requests in “Other Procurement, Army.” This account contains a broad
range of dissimilar items to be procured. Also, because most UAVs conduct
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions, some portion of their costs
are covered in the Intelligence budget rather than the DOD budget, which
complicates building a complete picture of cost.
Once an adequate and uniform cost comparison mechanism or definition has
been established, the next step for Congress may be to identify an appropriate balance
in spending between UAVs and manned aircraft. As a result of the apparent
ascension of UAVs to a permanent position in the US’s military aircraft inventory,
one logical question should be, “How much should be spent on UAVs in relation to
manned aircraft?.” If the upward trend in UAV funding continues through 2010, as
shown in Figure 3, DoD is projected to have spent upwards of $18 billion on
procurement, RDT&E, operations and maintenance for UAVs from 2001-2010. This
number far exceeds the $3.5 billion spent on UAVs in the preceding decade.
42 Flyaway cost: OSD. Aircraft Procurement, Air Force, BA 04: Other Aircraft FY2005,
February 2004, High Altitude Endurance - UAV, Item No. 17, p. 4 of 39. PAUC: OSD.
Selected Acquisition Report. December 31, 2004, p. 11.
43 Manned aircraft like the F-16 do require a ground crew for takeoff/landing, radar
operators and air traffic controllers in order to maximize their performance, yet none of
these are requisite for flight. Feasibly, an F-16 needs a pilot in the cockpit and little-else.
UAVs, with the exception of the few autonomous flight models, require constant
intervention and control from a ground crew. The probability that an F-16 could sustain
flight without communication from its ground crew is relatively high, whereas the lack of
communication between the ground operators and the UAV yields a significantly low
probability of sustained flight.
Figure 3. UAV Annual Funding Profile
2166 2074 22492200
2 553 420600
7635 252 430 225 267 27 359 388 284400
106 144 16 3630200
1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Source: OSD, UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p.37.
Figure 4 illustrates the funding by platform requested and expected to be
requested by the executive branch from FY2005 to FY2011. While funding for many
of these programs will remain steady through the decade, the Presidential Budget
Requests for the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System is expected to break $1 billion
by FY2011, which could be an indicator of where the Department of Defense plans
to go with UAV funding.
Figure 4. President's Budget Request For UAV
1100 . 0
1000 . 0
900 . 0
600 . 0 S ha dow
500 . 0$M P i onee r
300 . 0 J- UC AS
200 . 0
100 . 0
FY05 FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11
Source: OSD, UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p.38.
Figure 5 compares manned to unmanned funding from FY2006 through
FY2011. The chart reveals that UAV will remain somewhere under 10% of the total
spending on all military aviation.44 Figure 6 demonstrates the total funding for
UAVs as a percentage of the total military aviation funding. As the pie chart shows,
UAV funding only represents three percent of all military aviation funding.
Figure 5. Manned versus Unmanned Aircraft Funding
FY06 FY07 FY08 F Y09 F Y10 FY11
Figure 6. Manned vs. Unmanned
S pendi ng
Source for Figs 5 & 6: DoD UAS Roadmap 2005-2030; FY2006 DoD Justification Books for
procurement and RDT&E of manned aircraft. Does not include small UAVs, micro-UAVs or lighter-
44 Note that the funding ratios do not include funding for small UAVs, Micro-UAVs and
Cost savings have long been touted by UAV advocates as one of the advantages
offered by unmanned aircraft over manned aircraft. However, critics point out that
the acquisition cost savings are often negligible if one considers that money saved by
not having a pilot in the cockpit must be applied to the “ground cockpit” of the UAV
aircrew operating the UAV from the ground control station. Another cost question
concerns personnel. Do UAV “pilots” cost less to train and keep proficient than
pilots of manned aircraft?45 So although the air vehicle might be cheaper than a
manned aircraft, the UAV system as a whole is not always less expensive.46
Additionally, UAVs have a higher attrition rate and lower reliability rate than
manned aircraft, which means that the operation and maintenance costs can be
higher. On the other hand, UAV ground control stations are capable of
simultaneously flying multiple UAVs, somewhat restoring the advantage in cost to
the unmanned system.47 Congress has noted that, “while the acquisition per unit cost
may be relatively small, in the aggregate, the acquisition cost rivals the investment
in other larger weapon systems.”48
Two studies have addressed the head-to head manned vs. unmanned cost issue.
The first, a CBO study, showed that replacing Army manned attack helicopters with
UCAVs would produce no significant savings in steady-state procurement costs
relative to current plans.49 DoD also studied the comparative costs of manned vs.
unmanned aircraft in their UAV Roadmap 2000. It found that development costs
were essentially the same while there was a cost savings in procurement costs when50
an F-16 was compared to an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV).
Assuming that a funding balance is struck between manned and unmanned
vehicles, how then will DoD juggle cost with capability? The OSD has cited this
question as one of its most pressing challenges. A significant concern with some
UAVs is their rising price tag. In a March 9, 2005 hearing, for example, members
of the House Armed Services Committee Tactical Air and Land Forces
Subcommittee expressed their concern over cost growth of not just “high-tech”
UAVs like Global Hawk and JUCAS, but also relatively less technologically
ambitious UAVs. 51
45 For more on personnel issues, see Recruitment and Retention section below.
46 As an example, the Predator air vehicle costs $4.5 million while the Predator system,
including four air vehicles, cost $30 million.
47 OSD. UAV Roadmap 2000, p.53.
48 U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 2nd Session, House of Representatives, Bob Stump
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, H.Rept. 107-436, p.243.
49 A CBO Study. “The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans.” January 2003,
50 OSD. UAV Roadmap 2000, p. 51-54.
51 House Armed Services Committee: Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.
Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Request for Defense Department Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle Systems. March 9, 2005. See especially, Rep. Weldon’s opening statement.
At what threshold does an “expendable” UAV cost too much to lose? Sensors
have consistently increased the cost of the air vehicle, according to Former Air Force
Secretary James Roche.52 The inexpensive design of small UAV air vehicles like the
Desert Hawk and Dragon Eye are dwarfed by the cost of the lightweight electro-
optical/infrared cameras that make up their payloads. On the other end of the size
spectrum, the RQ-4 B second generation Global Hawk’s sensor payload represents
approximately 54 percent of the vehicles flyaway cost, which does not include the
cost of the increased wingspan that shoulders the extra 1000 pounds of sensor
suites.53 These costs are increasing due to the basic law of supply and demand.
Growing demand, matched with a lack of commercial sensor equivalents, means that
UAV sensor producers face little competition, which would help keep costs down.
Growing sensor costs have prompted some to recommend equipping UAVs
with self-protection devices, suggesting those UAVs are no longer considered
expendable. Consequently, there are two schools of thought for UAV employment
that could help balance cost with capability. One is to field many smaller, less
expensive and less capable UAVs controlled through a highly interconnected
communications network.54 One example of this investment approach is the
developmental Army’s Future Combat System, which networks several relatively
inexpensive UAVs like the Raven, the Shadow and the Fire Scout with 18 other
weapons platforms. None of these UAVs can individually shoulder all of the air
duties required by the system, yet the robust communications network is expected to
distribute the mission duties to allow each platform to provide its specialized task.55
A second approach advocates fielding fewer, more expensive and more capable
UAVs that are less networked with other systems, such as the autonomous Global
Hawk. The Global Hawk serves as a high altitude, “all-in-one” surveillance platform
capable of staying aloft for days at a time, yet does not operate in concert with any
of its fellow UAV peers. Since 2003, programs at both ends of this spectrum have
experienced delays and a reduction in funding. The Army’s Future Combat System
has experienced delays due to significant management and technology issues.
Similarly, the highly capable Global Hawk and the J-UCAS program have risen in
cost and been consumed by apparent management struggles, which have prompted
funding cuts for both.56
52 U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 2nd Session, Senate, Committee on Armed Services,
“Department of Defense Policies and Programs to Transform the Armed Forces to Meet thest
Challenges of the 21 Century,” Senate Hearing 107-771, April 9, 2002, p.124.
53 For more information on the second generation RQ-4 B and its difference from the RQ-4
A, please seen section 3; OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, Appendix B, p.
54 Some have referred to this option as the “swarming UAV” concept.
55 See CRS Report RL32888. The Army’s Future Combat System: Background and Issues
for Congress, by Andrew Feickert.
56 See the “Current DOD UAV Programs” section starting on p. 37 for more information
about the Global Hawk and J-UCAS programs.
Finally, what areas of investment will yield the maximum effectiveness out of
these UAVs? Four specific issues stand out as the most pressing: interoperability,
reliability, force multiplication/autonomy, and engine systems.
Over the past three years of the UAV evolution, one the most worrisome issues
for UAVs has been the slow pace of the advancement of interoperability. Recently,
acting chief of acquisitions for the Department of Defense Michael Wynne declared
that the lack of interoperability could be one of the pitfalls that causes DoD to “fall
out of love with UAVs” unless the matter was resolved soon.57 The future plans for
UAV usage within the framework of larger battlefield operations and more
interconnected and potentially joint-service combat systems require UAVs to
seamlessly communicate between each other and numerous different ground
components, and to also be compatible with as equally numerous ground control
systems. The lack of interconnectivity at these levels have often complicated
missions to the point of reducing their effectiveness, as Dyke Weatherington, head
of DoD’s UAV planning taskforce, noted in 2004; “There have been cases where a
service’s UAV, if it could have gotten data to another service, another component,
it may have provided better situational awareness on a specific threat in a specific
area that might have resulted in different measures being taken.”58
Advancing the interoperability of UAVs has been a critical part of the OSD’s
investment plans. The Department of Defense has pushed forward with the
establishment of inter-communication between similar UAVs as a vehicle to help
facilitate interoperability among four categories.59 First, DoD hopes to integrate an
adequate interface for situational awareness, which will relay the objective, position,
payload composition, service operator and mission tasking procedure to other
unmanned aircraft and potentially to ground elements. Second, a payload interface
will allow the coherent transfer of surveillance data while the third category, the
weapons interface, will constitute a separate transfer medium by which operators can
coordinate these platform’s offensive capabilities. Finally, the air vehicle control
interface will enable navigation and positioning from the ground with respect to other
Although the framework for these categories of interoperability has been
established, the technology has been slow to catch up. The House of
Representatives version of the FY2006 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1815,
House Report 109-89) took a major step to encourage inter-platform communication.
The members of the House Armed Services Committee included a clause that called
for the requirement of all tactical unmanned aerial vehicles throughout the services
to be equipped with the Tactical Common Data Link, which has become the services’
standardized communication tool for providing “critical wideband data link required
57 Marc Selinger. “Wynne Warns UAV Industry About Cost, Networking.” Aerospace
Daily. December 16, 2004, p. 3.
58 Michael Peck. “Pentagon Setting Guidelines For Aircraft Interoperability”. National
Defense. July 2004, p. 47.
59 Four categories as outlined by Dyke Weatherington and reported by Michael Peck. “
Pentagon Setting Guidelines For Aircraft Interoperability”. National Defense. July 2004,
for real-time situational awareness, as well as real time sensor and targeting data to
tactical commanders."60 The 2005 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Roadmap61
endeavors to take a step further; it intends to field the Common Data Link
communications systems for not only tactical UAVs, but for all large UAVs as well.62
If UAVs are to achieve the level of interoperability envisioned by the OSD, the
services and industry must will likely need to keep focused on achieving the
Common Data Link communications system goal and invest appropriately to
facilitate an expedited and efficient development process.
The finite bandwidth that currently exists for all military aircraft, and the
resulting competition for existing bandwidth, may render the expansion of UAV
applications infeasible and leave many platforms grounded. Ultimately, the
requirement for bandwidth grows with every war the U.S. fights.63 The increased use
of UAVs in the Iraq war indicates that remotely pilotted platform and their mass
consumption of bandwitdth will require a more robust information transfer system
in the coming years. Some sources say that the military currently does not have
enough bandwidth to download video and radar images via satellite communications
from more than one UAV at a time. In a hearing of the House Armed Services
Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, Representative Curt
Weldon noted that while the United States possesses an extensive fleet of UAVs,
“many sit on many sit on the ground because there is inadequate bandwidth for them
to be used effectively."64 As confirmed by an OSD official in the same hearing, an
unspecified number of UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan are incapable of operations
because the information transfer capacity connecting UAVs to the ground operators
are simply not large enough to manage multiple UAVs.
One program designed to alleviate the bandwidth concern is the Transformation
Satellite Communications (TSAT) project. DoD intends to use the laser and satellite
communications system to the provide U.S. armed forces with an unlimited and
uninhibited ability to send and receive messages and critical information around the
world without data traffic jams.65 However, the multibillion dollar project,
60 For text of congressional clause see National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
2006, Report of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Armed Services, H. Report
109-89, Section 141 of Legislative Provisions, May 20, 2005. For citation of TCDL
purpose, see “Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) Overview.” BAE Systems,
61 In 2005, DoD changed the name of the UAV road map to Unmanned Aircraft Systems
(UAS) road map, to reflect the importance of, and increase awareness of the the overall
UAV system, which includes command, control, communications, sensors, and often
62 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p. 75.
63 Bandwidth is defined as the amount of data that can be transmitted over a communications
link in a fixed amount of time.
64 VHearing of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed
Services Committee. “Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Request.” March 9, 2005.
65 Sandra Erwin. “Multibillion-Dollar ‘Internet in the Sky’ Could Help Ease Bandwidth
nicknamed “the internet in the sky”, is expected to be the subject of funding cutbacks
and, at earliest, will be deployed between 2015 and 2016. 66 As another interim
option, DOD has testified that a more autonomous UAV would require less
bandwidth, since more data are processed on board and less data are being moved.67
However, it is unclear that autonomy will actually decrease bandwidth requirements
since Global Hawk, an autonomous UAV, is currently the most aggressive bandwidth
One solution to alleviating the bandwidth problem is allowing UAVs to be
operated from a manned stand-off aircraft such as a command and control aircraft.
Stationing the mission control element of the UAV system in another aircraft instead
of on the ground would reduce the reliance on satellites for beyond line of sight
communication, simplifying command and control. Not only would this help
overcome the bandwidth issue, but it would also address another potential problem
area, which is pilot manpower and retention. Pilots in this case would still get to
“fly” while operating the UAV. Experimentation is currently ongoing in this area,
with the first step being controlling the UAV’s sensor payload from the air.
Investment in reliability upgrades appear to be another high priority for UAVs
in recent years. In 2004 the Defense Science Board indicated that relatively high
UAV mishap rates might impede the widespread fielding of UAVs.68 The 2005
UAS Roadmap indicates that UAV mishap rates appear to be much higher than the
mishap rates of many manned aircraft. Table 2 shows the number of Class A Mishap
per 100,000 hours of major UAVs and comparable manned aircraft.69
Crunch.” National Defense. June 2005, p. 24.
67 Hearing of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services
Committee. “Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles and
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Programs.” March 26, 2003.
68 Defense Science Board. “Defense Science Board Study on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
and Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicles.” Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for
Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics. February 2004, p.vii-viii.
69 Note that Class A Mishaps, according to the Army Safety Center are considered to be
damage costs of $1,000,000 or more and/or destruction of aircraft, missile or spacecraft
and/or fatality or permanent total disability. Similar definitions for the Air Force, Navy and
Marine Corp can be found at their respective safety center websites. Also note the
performance capabilities of the manned versus unmanned vary greatly and may have an
impact on the mishap rate. Additionally, the underlying assumption is that the UAVs and
the manned aircraft will perform the same missions and operate under the same
circumstance as the manned aircraft, which may not hold for all missions and all platforms.
For more on military aviation safety, see CRS Report RL31571, Military Aviation Safety,
by Christopher Bolkcom.
Table 2. Select Mishap Rates
Vehicle TypeClass A Mishaps(per 100,000 hrs)
Source: DoD’s UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, p. 75.
In its recent UAV study, the Defense Science Board (DSB) notes that manned
aircraft over the past five decades have moved from the relatively high mishap rate
to relatively low rates through the advancement of system design, weather durability
improvements and reliability upgrades.70 It should be pointed out, however, that the
UAVs, with the exception of Predator, have total flight times that are significantly
less the than the 100,000 hours used to calculate the mishap rate. Most aircraft tend
to have a much higher mishap rate in their first 50,000 hours of flight than their
second 50,000 hours of flight. Further, some of the UAVs in Table 2, have flown
numerous missions while still under development. Predator and Global Hawk, for
instance, were rushed into combat well prior to the aircrafts’ initial operational
capability: 2005 for Predator, and a projected FY2006 for Global Hawk. It is unfair,
some might argue, to compare the mishap rates of developmental UAVs with
manned aircraft that have completed development and been modernized and refined
over decades of use.
The DSB’s report also suggests that nominal upgrades and investment —
arguing even that many UAVs will need little change — could produce substantial
reductions in the UAV mishap rates. The 2005 UAS Roadmap proposes investments
into emerging technologies, such as self-repairing “smart” flight control systems,
auto take-off and recovery instruments, and heavy fuel engines, to enhance71
reliability. Also the incorporation of advanced materials — such as high
temperature components, light-weight structures, shape memory alloys and cold
70 Defense Science Board. “Defense Science Board Study on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and
Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicles.” Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for
Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics. February 2004, p.viii.
71 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p. H-8 and H-9.
weather tolerance designs that include significant de-icing agent — will also be
expected to improve the survivability of UAVs in adverse environments.72
One of the most attractive and innovative technological priorities in the industry
is to enable one ground operator to pilot several UAVs at once. At the 2003 Paris
Airshow, Vice President of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Advanced Systems, Mike
Heinz said, “We have to reduce operator workload. That’s been a real thorn in our
side. Typically, we have had multiple operators per vehicle, ...but where we want to
go is multiple vehicles per operator.”73 Currently most UAVs require at least two
ground operators; one to pilot the vehicle and another control the sensors. The end
goal for UAV manufactures and users is to reduce the to 2:1 operator-vehicle ratio
and eventually to elevate the autonomy and interoperability of UAV to the point
where two or more vehicles can be controlled by one operator. If this technological
feat is established, the advantage of UAVs as a force-multiplier on the battle field
could provide a dramatic change in combat capability.
Many believe that the process of achieving this goal would most likely require
significant time and investments. As the 2005 UAS Roadmap notes, “Getting
groups of UA to team (or swarm) in order to accomplish an objective will require
significant investment in control technologies” with specific reference to distributed
control technologies. 74 Considering the two operator system currently in place for
most UAVs, the logical approach to reaching this technological advancement is to
first invest in the autonomous flight capabilities of the UAVs, so as to reduce the
workload for UAVs. The Global Hawk and the Scan Eagle possess significant
automate flight capabilities, but their degree of actual flight autonomy can be debated
due to the UAV’s need for continuous operator intervention in poor weather
conditions. The OSD quantifies the degree of UAV autonomy in on a scale of one
to ten. Table 3 shows the OSD’s Autonomous Capability Levels for UAVs.
73 Bill Sweetman. “Boeing’s IDeAS Group Moving Ahead Wth UAVs.” Aviation Now. May
74 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p. D-7.
Table 3. Autonomous Capability Levels (ACL)
10Fully Autonomous Swarms
9Group Strategic Goals
7Group Tactical Goal
6Group Tactical Replan
4Onboard Route Replan
3Adapt to Failures & Flight Conditions
2Real Time Health/Diagnosis
Source: Data taken from DoD’s UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, p. D-10.
Note: OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p. D-7.
In order for UAVs to achieve maximum use when being controlled by a single
pilot, the UAV ACL must achieve a level of at least eight. Currently, the Global
Hawk, which is considered by many as the most autonomous UAV presently in
service, maintains an ACL of approximately 2.5. J-UCAS plans hope to make the
combat UAV capable of autonomous flight levels of six, yet the timetable for this
level is fairly far off. FAA and the UAV industry are working with the Department
of Defense in order to facilitate the universal development of “see and avoid”
technology that would allow a UAV to operate autonomously and avoid approaching
aircraft, potentially increasing the standard ACL for UAVs to four. Additionally,
inter-UAV communication and the coordination associated with interoperability (see
interoperability above) must match the autonomous flight abilities. Full automation
of sensor capabilities would enable the lone operator to control a network of
intelligence collecting drones.
The first steps towards the “one-operator-per-several-UAVs” advancement are
already underway. Recently, the Air Force evaluated a Predator upgrade that allowed
one operator to pilot up two four UAVs.75 The Multi-Aircraft Control (MAC) system
allowed one ground pilot to control the flight plan of four Predator UAVs during an
exercise in which one UAV engages a target and the other three hover nearby on
standby status. The next step is to consolidate the tasks of the four mission payload
operator, each manning the sensors or weapons system on the four Predators, into one
or fewer operators.
One key area of investment interest may be heavy fuel burning engines. The
OSD’s 2005-2030 Unmanned Aviation System Roadmap outlined the development
of heavy fuel engine (HEF) in order to replace gasoline-powered internal combustion
75 “Predators Fly First Four-Ship Sortie.” Air Force Print News. September 26, 2005.
engines as a top priority for UAV investment. 76 (Heavy fuel refers to diesel or JP-8
fuel, used by the Army and Air Force.77) The Defense Science Board urged DoD to
take the lead in investing in the rapid development and acquisition of heavy fuel
engines for Predator, Shadow, Hunter and Fire Scout primarily because of the lack
of commercial demand for these engines. Enrique J. Enriguez, President of the
Locust USA, Inc. testified that the
...military has clearly established their need for heavy fuel burning engines for
UAVs, but industry has been slow to respond to this need. In the small size
range that we are working in, the military requirements are in place requiring
heavy fuel burning engines; however, these requirements are being placed on the78
The incorporation of heavy fuel engines onto UAVs could help the vehicle to
climb faster, operate at more lofty altitudes and to reduce the amount of time spent
servicing the engine on the ground. Proponent of heavy fuel engines argue that the
integration of heavy fuel engines would not only increase performance capabilities
and reduce servicing time, but would make the UAVs flight system more reliable and
significantly reduce operations and maintenance costs. Furthermore, heavy fuel is
cheaper and more abundant than the gasoline used in standard internal combustion
However, some drawbacks may exist when applying HFE to UAVs. The
targeted unmanned platforms for this engine are the medium-sized and less complex
UAVs such as Shadow, Pioneer and Predator. Although the operations and
maintenance costs may lessened by the heavy fuel engine, the initial acquisition cost
is much greater than traditional engines and could burden these relatively cheap
UAVs with increased production costs. Furthermore, developers are experiencing
difficulties in designing an engine light enough and small enough to accommodate
the flight requirements of this lighter UAV.
Another alternative being considered is a modified fuel cell under development
by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Supporters of fuel cells note that these
devices could double the efficiency of mid-sized UAVs and could reduce the acoustic
and thermal signatures of the UAVs, effectively making them more difficult to detect
and target. 79 Air Combat Command is sponsoring the project with the idea in mind
to use the fuel cells in many of its smaller UAVs and expects a flight test in 2010.
76 OSD. 2005-2030 UAS Roadmap. August 2005, p. 76.
78 Enrique J. Enriquez. Statement to the House Armed Service’s Committee’s Subcommittee
on Tactical Air and Land Forces. U.S. House of Representatives, July 21, 2004.
79 Libby John. “Fuel Cell Project Could Help Make UAVs Less Detectable, More
Efficient.” Inside the Air Force. September 23, 2005.
UAV Roles and Applications
Considering the growing abundance of remotely-piloted platforms and the rapid
growth of the UAV industry, some may question whether DoD has a coherent plan
for determining UAV roles and applications. Specifically, are UAVs being applied
to new roles aggressively enough? Conversely, is DoD too eager to use UAVs? Are
there alternatives that should be considered for their missions? Under what
circumstances does it make more sense to add missions to a single-mission UAV,
rather than develop a new UAV for the new mission?
Traditionally, and contemporaneously, most UAVs are designed and used
primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.80 Some
project that ISR UAVs will be the dominant UAV role until at least 2014.81 ISR
applications range from multi-intelligence, high altitude and long endurance
missions conducted by the Global Hawk over Iraq and Afghanistan, or “over-the-hill”
reconnaissance and sniper spotting performed by the Army’s Raven UAV. In 2003
100 percent of DoD’s major UAV programs (five of five programs) conducted ISR
missions.82 In 2005, 87 percent (12 of 16 major programs) are designed for ISR
missions. This two year comparison indicates some diversification of UAV missions,
and a rapid growth in overall programs.
With this rapid growth in ISR UAVs may come the concern that production of
numerous aircraft with the same basic mission could yield unnecessary duplication.
Some contend that DoD has had a difficult time building joint manned aircraft in the
past.83 The Services’ desire to optimally satisfy their unique operational requirements
have often made them unwilling to compromise and accept an aircraft developed by
another service. Might UAV development be equally vulnerable to this dynamic?
Why, some in Congress have asked, for example, does the Navy require a new
maritime surveillance UAV? Why can’t they purchase the Global Hawk?84 The
80 Specialized UAVs have been developed and used extensively as decoys. Decoys are
autonomously guided. They have been used in numerous conflicts to attract the attention
of enemy air defenses while manned aircraft either avoid these defenses, or attack them. It
is anticipated that DoD will continue to develop and produce decoys. Operational goals
would include decreasing price, and improving abilities to mimic friendly aircraft and thus
reduce the ability of enemy air defenses to different between the decoy, and the real aircraft.
81 Steven Zaloga. “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Market Overview.” World Missiles Briefing.
Teal Group Inc. Fairfax, VA. January 2005.
82 Of the 12 platforms, five vehicles (Predator A, Hunter, Fire Scout, I-Gnat-ER and
Neptune) are considered multi-mission UAVs because of their ability to carry-out significant
non-ISR missions. Also statistic does not include small UAV inventory, lighter-than-
air/Aerostat vehicles, or micro-UAVs.
83 See CRS Report RL30563 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program: Background, Status,
and Issues, by Christopher Bolkcom, for more information on this subject.
84 See for example Q&A between Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Mr. Dyke Weatherington,
UAV Planning Task Force DoD during House Armed Services Committee, Tactical Air and
Land Forces Subcommittee Hearing on the FY’04 Defense Authorization: Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles. FDCH Political Transcripts. March 26, 2003 Wednesday.
majority of ISR UAVs possess apparently similar electro-optical and infrared
sensors. They are differentiated, however, by the altitude reached, their
communications range, their flight endurance and their landing/takeoff procedure.
In the future, Congress may act to decide when a new UAV program is justified, and
when it is duplicative.
Table 4. ISR UAVs with E-O/IR Sensors
Max Max RangeAdditional
VehicleEndurance (hrs)Altitude Speed (kt)(nm)SensorUser
I-Gnat-ER 30 25000 120 150 None Army
Mave rick 7 10300 118 175 None SOCOM
MQ-1 24 25000 118 500 SAR AF
MQ-5 B 1 8 18000 106 144 None Army
Neptune 4 8000 84 40 None SOCOM
RQ-2 5 15000 110 100 None Navy/ MC
RQ-4 A 3 2 65000 350 5400 SAR/MT I AF
RQ-5 A 1 2 15000 106 144 None Army
RQ-7 A 5 14000 110 68 None Army
RQ-7 B 7 15000 105 68 None Army
RQ-8 6 20000 125 150 LDFR Army/Navy
X PN-2 8.5 10000 75 40 None SOCOM
Source: OSD. 2005-2030 UAS Roadmap. August 2005, p.4-25.
Figure 7 shows a comparison of the performance specifications of ISR-capable
UAVs. The chart indicates that a majority of UAVs feature an endurance of 4 to 8
hours, an altitude of 10,000 - 20,000 ft, max speeds between 105 and 125 knots and
radiuses of 100 to 150 nm.
Figure 7. ISR UAV Characteristics
hrs < 5 5 - 10 10 - 15 15 - 20 20 - 25 25 - 30 hrs > 30
3 of of
> 10 10 - 15 15 - 20 20 - 25 25 - 30 30 - 35< 35
Thousands of ft.
< 75 75 - 100 100 - 125 125 - 150 150 - 175 175 - 200 200 - 225> 225
Congress may ask if the production of different UAVs with relatively similar
performance capabilities constitutes unnecessary duplication. Critics of these
expanded UAV roles often argue that the production of these similar platforms is
unnecessary, considering that a consolidated inventory — hypothetically consisting
of only the RQ-4B Global Hawk, the RQ/MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-2 Pioneer —
could perform and fulfill the same duties as the expanded inventory. However,
proponents of the more varied platform inventory often argue that these basic
performance capabilities cannot alone qualify the necessity of these UAVs, and that
the variety of UAVs reflects the specific need of the mission or user-services and not
unnecessary duplication. Furthermore, they argue that landing/takeoff capabilities,
durability, storage requirements and overall cost all play additional roles in
determining the necessity of the vehicle.
In recent years, the UAV’s role in combat missions has significantly increased.
The first public acknowledgment that UAVs were being used for combat operations
was in 2002 when a Predator UAV outfitted with a Hellfire missile attacked and
killed several Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.85 Now the UAV combat landscape has
changed: the majority of the Predator A UAVs have been equipped with Hellfire
missiles; Predator B comes off the assembly line with a large array of munitions; the
Maverick, I-Gnat-ER, Fire Scout and Hunter UAVs are undergoing armament
evaluations; and the J-UCAS program endeavors to create the first UAV primarily
designed for offensive applications.
Using UAVs to deliver air-to-ground munitions appears inherently useful.
UAVs can loiter over the battlefield to attack emerging targets, at no risk to flight
crew. Yet, UAVs are not without limitations. While cost and effectiveness
comparisons between manned and unmanned aircraft must be made cautiously, doing
so can help determine when using UAVs for combat operations is more attractive
than using manned aircraft.
The 2006 actual current year cost for the MQ-9 Predator B is $11.7 million,
about one-third the $35.5 million estimate for the F-16 Falcon. A simple payload
comparison shows that the F-16 can carry approximately four times the payload of
the Predator B (10,750 lbs vs 2,500 lbs).86 This means that the cost per one pound
of munitions delivered is $4,680 for the Predator and $3,302 for the F-16.87 Further,
the F-16 is a versatile combat aircraft that can be used to perform many missions that
the Predator B cannot. This may suggest that using manned aircraft for air-to-ground
combat may generally prove more cost effective than using UAVs, and that he
UAV’s unique combat capabilities may be most valued in niche circumstances, such
as when manned aircraft would be in extreme danger.
Other missions for which UAVs appear useful, or are being considered in the
near-term, include electronic attack (also called stand-off jamming, or escort
jamming), and psychological operations, such dropping leaflets. On the medical side,
UAVs such as the Army’s Shadow have been studied and evaluated for its capability
to deliver critical medical supplies needed on the battlefield.
85 Walter Pincus. “U.S. Strike Kills Six in Al Qaeda.” The Washington Post, November 1,
86 Payload based on the maneuvering capability of an F-16 flying at 9 g with a center fuel
tank , see Jane’s All the World Aircraft 2005-2006. 96th edition, edited by Paul Jackson, p.
728. OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2003. August, 2005, Section 2, p.10
87 It is important to point out that the operating costs, RDT&E costs, logistics cost and
personnel cost are not factored into this comparison. Furthermore, flight performance and
specific combat missions, which are critical to the distinction of between these two vehicles,
are also not factored into this comparison.
While UAV use in foreign theaters is well established, one of the most
commonly discussed new mission areas for UAVs is homeland defense and
homeland security. The Coast Guard and U.S. Border Patrol already have plans to
deploy UAVs such as the Eagle Eye to watch coastal waters, patrol the nation’s
borders, and protect major oil and gas pipelines. Congressional support exists for
using UAVs like the Predator for border security. During a Senate Armed Services
Committee hearing on homeland defense, several members agreed that although it
would not be appropriate or constitutional for the military to patrol the border,
domestic agencies using UAVs could carry out this mission.88
It appears that interest is growing in using UAVs for a variety of domestic, and
often non-defense roles. Long-duration law enforcement surveillance, a task
performed by manned aircraft during the October 2002 sniper incident near
Washington, D.C. is one example. The U.S. Department of Transportation has
studied possible security roles for UAVs, such as following trucks with hazardous
cargo, while the Energy Department has been developing high-altitude instruments
to measure radiation in the atmosphere.89 The inexpensive vertical take-off and
landing GoldenEye 100 UAV is expected to serve as a medium-range, small-package
transport and may be affordable enough for local law enforcement use during events
of large-scale civil unrest.90 UAVs might also be used in sparsely populated areas of
the western United States to search for forest fires. Following the wide-spread
destruction of Hurricane Katrina, some suggest that a UAV like Global Hawk could
play roles in “consequence management” and relief efforts.91 Also, UAV advocates
note that countries like South Korea and Japan have used UAVs for decades for crop
dusting and other agricultural purposes.92
Not all of these new applications have are uncontroversial — UAV advocates
state that in order for UAVs to take an active role in homeland security, Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and UAV flight requirements must
approach a common ground. According to FAA spokeman William Shumann, the
primary challenge in meeting this common ground is “to develop vehicles that meet
FAA safety requirements if they want to fly in crowded airspace”.93 The August 2003
announcement that the FAA had granted the Air Force a certificate of authorization
for national airspace operation signifies the first steps in the reconciliation of these
88 Marc Selinger. “Sen. McCain Says Predator May Be Useful For Border Security,”
Aerospace Daily, April 9, 2003.
89 National Journal’s Congress Daily. “Pilotless Aircraft Makers Seek Role For Domestic
Uses,” December 17, 2002.
90 “GoldenEye in the Sky.” The Economist. July 5th, 2003.
91 Martin Matishak. “Global Hawk Could Perform Multiple Tasks in Relief Efforts, Study
Finds.” Inside the Air Force. September 23, 2005.
92 See, for example Statement of Christopher Bolkcom. Analyst in National Defense
Congressional Research Service. Before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee,
Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services. Hearing On
Cruise Missile Proliferation. June 11, 2002. [http://hsgac.senate.gov/061102bolkcom.pdf]
93 Greta Wodele, “Firms to showcase unmanned planes for Border Patrol,” National
Journal’s Technology Daily, Aug. 11, 2003.
discrepancies. 94 Upgrading UAVs collision avoidance capabilities appears to be a
critical part in the next step of reaching the UAV-airspace common ground. The
FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Working Group indicates it will work with the
Department of Defense, specifically through the new UAV OIPT and Center of
Excellence to facilitate safe UAV operations and the adequacy of flight
The schedule for integrating UAVs into the national airspace may become
contentious. A February 2004 study by the Defense Science Board found that “DoD
has an urgent need to allow UAVs unencumbered access to the National Airspace
System...here in the United States and around the world.”96 In September 2005 it was
reported, however, that NASA planned to cancel funding for Access 5, a
government/industry partnership created to facilitate the incorporation of UAVs into
the national airspace system. UAV advocates bemoaned this development, arguing
that disbanding Access 5 would severely hamper the forecasted development of
UAVs and their numerous global applications.97
Further in the future, large UAVs could take on the aerial refueling task now
performed by KC-10 and KC-135 tanker aircraft. Although DOD has not expressed
plans for exploring the aerial refueling role, it appears to some to be a mission well
suited for unmanned aircraft. The flight profiles flown by KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft
are relatively benign compared to many other aircraft, and they tend to operate far
from enemy air defenses. Except for operating the refueling boom (to refuel Air
Force aircraft), the refueling crew’s primary job is to keep the aircraft flying straight,
level, and at a steady speed. The Global Hawk’s 2001 trans-oceanic flights (from the
United States to Australia and from the United States to Portugal) demonstrate the
ability of current UAVs to fly missions analogous to aerial refueling missions.
Another, far more difficult future task, could be air-to-air combat. DOD is
experimenting with outfitting today’s UAVs with the sensors and weapons required
to conduct such a mission. In fact, a Predator has reportedly already engaged in air
to-air combat with an Iraqi fighter aircraft. In March, 2003 it was reported that a
Predator launched a Stinger air-to-air missile at an Iraqi MiG before the Iraqi aircraft
shot it down.98 While this operational encounter may be a “baby step” on the way
toward an aerial combat capability, it appears significant. Aerial combat is often
described as the most challenging mission for manned aircraft to perform, and, some
94 Sue Baker. “FAA Authorizes Global Hawk Flights.” Aeronautical Systems Center Public
Affairs. August 21, 2003.
95 “UAV Sense-And-Avoid Technologies Not Just A Military Concern.” Defense Daily.
August 2, 2005.
96 Defense Science Board Study on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Uninhabited Combat
Aerial Vehicles. Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitino, Technology, and
Logistics. February 2004. P.XII
97 B.C. Kessner. “International UAS Organization Protests To NASA Over Potential Cut.”
Helicopter News. September 20, 2005.
98 David Fulghum. “Predator’s Progress.” Aviation Week & Space Technology. March 3,
say, one that UAVs will never be able to accomplish. Though embryonic, the recent
Predator launch of an air-to-air missile will likely hearten UAV advocates who wish
to see more aggressive missions for unmanned aircraft.
Are UAVs always the preferred platforms for these new roles and applications?
Other options could include manned aircraft, blimps, and space satellites.99 Each
platform offers both advantages and disadvantages. Manned aircraft provide a
flexible platform, but risk a pilot’s life. Some of the country’s largest defense
contractors are competing to develop unmanned blimps that may be capable of
floating months at a time at an altitude of 70,000 feet and carrying 4,000 pounds of
payload. OSD’s 2005 UAS Roadmap includes a section on lighter-than-air blimps
and tethered “aerostat” platforms, which OSD indicates to be important for a variety
of roles, including psychological operations, spot incoming enemy missiles and
border monitoring. Furthermore, these platforms could provide services equivalent
to many border surveillance UAVs, but their decreased dependency on fuel could
minimize operations costs. One drawback to these lighter-than-air platforms is their
lack of maneuverability and speed relative to UAVs like the Global Hawk. None-
the-less, the goal of many major UAV manufacturers is to develop an operational
system by 2010 that could carry out a variety of missions for homeland security.100
Space satellites offer many benefits — they are thought to be relatively
invulnerable to attack, and field many advanced capabilities. However, tasking the
satellites can be cumbersome, especially with competing national priorities. The
limited number of systems can only serve so many customers at one time.
Additionally, some satellites lack the loitering capability of UAVs, only passing over
the same spot on Earth about once every three days. Due to the high costs of space
launches, UAVs like Global Hawk are being considered for communication relays
as substitutes for low-orbiting satellite constellations.101
Recruitment and Retention
One commonly voiced concern with the pace of UAV production is that these
remotely piloted planes will replace manned aircraft in large numbers.102 Critics of
mass UAV production warn that a reliance on unmanned vehicles degrades pilot
skills and takes away the tactical flexibility and adaptability that manned aircraft
bring to combat operations.
99 For more information on blimps (airships) and aerostats, see CRS Report RS21886:
Potential Military Use of Airships and Aerostats
100 Peter Pae. “A Rebirth For Blimps; Military Has Plan For Cousin of Hindenburg,” Los
Angeles Times, November 4, 2002.
101 David Fulghum. “Air Force Chief Predicts Growth of UAV Use By Military,” Aviation
Week and Space Technology. March 17, 2003.
102 See, for example. David Bond. “As RPVs Deliver Sigint, Pentagon Officials Question
Manned Platforms.” Aviation Week & Space Technology. October 17, 2005.
It has not always been easy for the aviation culture to adapt to flying aircraft
from the ground. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, during a hearing on
transformation, stated that:
Not long ago, an Air Force F-15 pilot had to be persuaded to forego a rated
pilot’s job to fly Predator. Now Air Force leadership is working hard to
encourage this pilot and others to think of piloting UAVs as a major mission and103
to become trail blazers in defining new concepts of operations.
The Air Force has realized the retention implications of requiring rated pilots to fly104
their UAVs, and has offered enticements such as plum assignments after flying the
UAV, and allowing pilots to keep up their manned flying hours during their UAV
tour of duty.
Historically, many believed that as more UAVs were fielded, recruitment and
retention would suffer because those inclined to join the military would prefer to fly
manned aircraft instead of unmanned aircraft. This may be the case in some
instances. The future impact of DoD’s UAV programs on recruitment, however is
more complicated than this argument suggests.
The recruitment and retention situation varies among the services and for
different types of personnel. While the Army appears to be having some difficulty
with recent recruitment, the Air Force and Navy are actively trying to reduce their
number of uniformed personnel. Thus, reduced enlistments due to increased UAV105
use, if that turns out to be the case, might not have the anticipated impact.
A central question related to the potential impact of increased UAV employment
on personnel, is “what qualifications are required to operate UAVs?” Currently, the
Air Force require Predator and Global Hawk operators to be pilot-rated officers.
Other services do not require UAV operators to be pilot-rated officers. This means
that, in the other services, there is no competition between manned and un-manned
aircraft for potentially scarce pilots.
Many enlist in military service with no desire, or intention to fly manned
aircraft. Some wish to fly, but lack physical qualifications, such as good eyesight.
The increased fielding of UAVs may encourage some to enlist because it offers them
an opportunity to “fly” that they may not have had otherwise. Further, those inclined
to fly manned aircraft may not be as disinclined to fly UAVs as was believed in the
past. Flying armed UAVs may be more appealing to these personnel than is flying
non-armed UAVs. Also, flying UAVs may be an attractive compromise for certain
103 U.S. Congress, 107th Congress, 2d Session, Hearing Before the Committee On Armed
Services United States Senate.”Department of Defense Policies And Programs Tost
Transform The Armed Forces To Meet The Challenges Of The 21 Century.” April 9, 2002,
104 Currently the Air Force is the only service to require rated pilots to fly their UAVs.
105 For more information on recruitment issues see CRS Report RL32965 Recruiting and
Retention: An Overview of FY2004 and FY2005 Results for Active and Reserve Component
Enlisted Personnel, by Lawrence Kapp.
personnel. While it may not confer all the excitement of flying a manned aircraft, it
also avoids many of the hardships (e.g. arduous deployments and potential harm).
The Air Force believes that flying UAVs from control stations in the United States
will be attractive to some Reservists and Guardsmen who may already be disinclined
to experience an active duty lifestyle consistent with flying manned aircraft. Also,
not all UAVs compete with manned aircraft for pilots. Those UAVs that are pre-
programmed and operate autonomously (like Global Hawk) do not require a pilot,
like the Predator and other remotely piloted vehicles.
The Air Force maintains that their UAVs are more technologically and
operationally sophisticated than other UAVs, and a trained pilot is required to employ
these UAVs most effectively. As UAV autonomy, or command and control matures,
or if personnel issues for the Air Force become more troublesome, it, or Congress,
may decide to review the policy of requiring pilot-rated officers to operate UAVs.
Increased employment of UAVs could potentially boost enlistment in other
specialties, if they are perceived as being effective in their missions. If, for example,
those inclined to enlist in infantry positions perceive UAVs to offer improved force
protection and CAS capabilities over today’s manned aircraft, these potential recruits
may have fewer qualms about the potential hazards of combat.
Industrial Base Considerations
Congress is perennially confronted with a spate of defense industrial base issues.
Is U.S. industry becoming too dependent on foreign suppliers? Do foreign
competitors get government subsidies that put U.S. firms at a competitive
disadvantage? Should Congress take steps to encourage or discourage defense
industry consolidation? Should Congress take steps to promote competition in the
defense industrial base? Should Congress takes steps to protect U.S. defense
industries in order to safeguard technologies or processes critical to national
defense?106 It appears that DoD’s pursuit of UAVs presents several inter-related
issues relevant to the defense industrial base.
Some are concerned, that if UAVs are increasingly designed and built, funding
for manned aircraft programs is likely to wane, and the technical expertise required
to design, and perhaps build manned combat aircraft could erode. Many point out
that the ability to produce world class combat aircraft is a distinct U.S. comparative
advantage, and should be guarded closely. Others disagree that the pursuit of UAVs
could harm the industrial base. They argue that the Joint Strike Fighter is likely to be
the last manned tactical fighter, and that the industrial base is naturally evolving
toward the skills and processes required to make increasingly advanced UAVs.
Those who fear manned industrial base atrophy argue that the future of UAVs
is overrated, and that there will be a demand for tactical manned aircraft in the post-
JSF timeframe. In their eyes, crucial skills and technologies could thus be lost by
concentrating only on unmanned aircraft design, possibly causing U.S. dominance
106 See, for example, CRS Report RL31236 The Berry Amendment: Requiring Defense
Procurement to Come from Domestic Sources, by Valerie Bailey Grasso.
in tactical aircraft design to wane. These proponents point out that UAVs have been
around for almost a century, yet only recently became operationally effective, and are
not likely to replace manned aircraft in the near future.107
Some disagree, and believe that critical manned aircraft design skills are not
jeopardized by increased pursuit of UAVs because there is considerable commonality
between manned and unmanned combat aircraft. Except for the obvious lack of a
cockpit, unmanned combat aircraft may require stealthy airframes, advanced
avionics, and high performance engines just like manned combat aircraft. Also, major
defense contractors have already begun to shift to unmanned aircraft design in order
to stay competitive. This is because UAVs are beginning to play a prominent role in
warfare, as seen in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi
Freedom in 2003. The same skills and technologies required for building manned
aircraft will likely lend themselves to unmanned aviation design as well. Companies
that have lost out in recent aviation contracts, such as Boeing and the Joint Strike
Fighter (JSF) in 2001, are looking towards unmanned bombers and fighters as
prospects for growth.108 Northrop Grumman Corp., as another example, has created
a new business unit to aggressively pursue UAV business.109 If Boeing were to design
manned aircraft in the future, the critical skills needed would still be present,
according to this argument.
Others would argue that maintaining a healthy U.S. defense industrial base
depends, in part, on how well U.S. firms compete for the global UAV market. One
survey finds that in 2005, there are 195 different UAV programs world wide.110 Some
estimate that global UAV expenditures double from $2.1 billion in 2005 to $5 billion
in 2014.111 The global market for combat aircraft alone, at approximately $12.5
billion in 2005, dwarfs the UAV market. But the rate of growth is projected to be
much slower, peaking at approximately $16 billion in 2013, and dropping to
approximately $14 billion in 2014.112 Thus, some would argue that much new
business is likely to be generated in the UAV market, and if U.S. companies don’t
capture this market share, European, Russian, Israeli, Chinese, or South African
companies will. From this perspective, capturing this new business, and nurturing
industrial expertise in UAV challenge areas (e.g. autonomous flight, control of
multiple vehicles, command and control, communications bandwidth) would be an
effective way to keep U.S. industry competitive and healthy.
107 For more information on the arguments for and against future demand of tactical aircraft,
see CRS Report RL31360, Joint Strike Fighter (JSF): Potential National Security Questions
Pertaining to a Single Production Line, by Christopher Bolkcom and Daniel Else.
108 Andy Pasztor. “Boeing Aims For Slice Of Fighter-Jet Contract Awarded to Lockheed,
But Blow Still Stings,” Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2001.
109 David Fulghum. “New Northrop Grumman Unit Focuses on Unmanned Aircraft.”
Aviation Week & Space Technology. April 30, 2001.
110 “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Directory.” Flight International. June 21-27, 2005.
111 “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Market Overview.” World Missiles Briefing. Teal Group
Inc. Fairfax, VA. January 2005.
112 “Fighter/Attack Aircraft market Overview.” World Military & Civil Aircraft Briefing.
Teal Group Inc. Fairfax, VA. February 2005.
UAV Proliferation and Export Control Considerations
This apparent and projected global growth of UAVs presents the related policy
issue of UAV proliferation and export controls. Both the 108th and 109th Congresses
have held hearings to express concern and explore the policy dimensions of UAV and
cruise missile proliferation.113
UAVs and cruise missiles (essentially a UAV with a weapon payload) are
concerns for policy makers for two reasons. First, because their proliferation appears
difficult to control. The majority of UAV components are indistinguishable from
components found in civil manned aviation.114 Therefore, many believe that it is
relatively easy to divert legitimate civilian or military exports of aviation technology
into a covert UAV or cruise missile program.115 UAVs could be accessible to many
countries or even non-state actors (Hizbollah militants, for example, have flown
UAVs over Israel, and Al Qaeda has used UAVs to monitor Pakistani soldiers 116),
that might not otherwise have access to long range aircraft or ballistic missiles.
Second, UAV proliferation is a concern because, if armed, they appear to be cost
effective weapons. It cost much more to effectively defend against these threats than
it costs to create the threat.117 Cruise missiles and UAVs, it is feared, could become
the “poor man’s air force.” The George W. Bush Administration has expressed
concern over the potential military effectiveness of UAVs in the wrong hands. Prior
to the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, both White House and
DoD officials focused on Iraq’s UAVs and how they could be used to attack
neighboring countries with weapons of mass destruction.118 Foreign companies are
increasingly gaining access to key technologies that could make future UAVs even
more effective. 119 Policy makers may become particularly mindful of potential
113 See “U.S. Representative Christopher Shays Holds a Hearing on Missile Technology and
Export Controls.” U.S. House of Representatives. Government Reform Committee, National
Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations Subcommittee. FDCH Political
Transcripts. March 9, 2004. And, “U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka Holds Hearing on Cruise
Missile Threats.” U.S. Senate. Government Affairs Committee, Proliferation and Federal
Services Subcommittee. FDCH Political Transcripts. June 11, 2002
114 Ballistic missiles, on the other hand, are composed of many components that are virtually
115 For more information, see CRS Report RS21252 Cruise Missile Proliferation, by
116 Riad Kahwaji. “Hizbollah’s UAV.” Defense News. November 15, 2004. And
Iqbal Khattak. “Troops find ‘spy drone’ in Al Qaeda hideout.” Daily Times (Pakistan).
September 27, 2005.
117 For more information, see CRS Report RS21921, Cruise Missile Defense, by Ravi R.
Hichkad and Christopher Bolkcom,and CRS Report RS21394, Homeland Security:
Defending U.S. Airspace, by Christopher Bolkcom.
118 “ Wolfowitz Reinforces Threat From Iraqi Chem-Bio-Carrying UAVs.” Defense Daily.
October 17, 2002.
119 See for example, Robert Hewson. “EADS readies new stealth facility for UAVs.” Jane’s
Defence Weekly. October 12, 2005.
exports of stealth technology, efficient turbofan engines, and terrain avoidance/terrain
following guidance systems that could be incorporated in foreign UAVs.
As DoD employs UAVs more aggressively, and as U.S. companies pursue a
growing body of international business opportunities, some in Congress may wish
to address policy issues related to the potential for UAV proliferation, and its
consequences: What steps might be taken to ensure the pursuit by U.S. companies
of domestic and international UAV export success doesn’t lead to the dissemination
of critical UAV technologies? What balance should be struck between supporting
legitimate military aid to U.S. allies, which may include UAVs, and concerns about
the proliferation of these weapon systems?
Another complicating issue is that UAVs, when used for ISR, can be very
effective in enabling the discriminating use of military force. UAVs can help
positively identify enemy combatants, and reduce the accidental targeting of friendly
forces or innocent civilians.120 How might overseers weigh the potential benefits of
reducing collateral damage versus the potential acquisition of UAVs by enemy
groups and their use against the United States? What revisions might be considered
to existing non-proliferation accords such as the Missile Technology Control Regime
(MTCR), to more effectively control the spread of UAVs and their technology?
Would tighter controls on UAVs be a detriment to industry?121
Current DOD UAV Programs
This section addresses the program status and funding of some of the most
prominent UAV programs being pursued by DoD, and most likely to compete for
congressional attention. This section does not attempt to provide a comprehensive
survey of all UAV programs, nor to develop a classification system for different types
of UAVs (e.g. operational vs developmental, single mission vs multi mission, long
range vs short range). One exception is a short subsection below titled “Small
UAVs.” The UAVs described in this section are distinguished from the proceeding
UAVs by being man-portable and of short range and loiter time. These smaller
UAVs are not currently, and are unlikely to be, weaponized. The Services do not
provide as detailed cost and budget documentation for these UAVs as they do for
major UAV programs. Individually, these UAVs appear very popular with ground
forces, yet do not necessarily demand as much congressional attention as larger UAV
programs like Predator or Global Hawk. As a whole, however, these small, man-
portable UAVs appear likely to increasingly compete with major UAV programs for
congressional attention and funding.
120 Gail Kaufman. “Evolving UAVs Force MTCR Reconsiderations.” Defense News.
December 10-16, 2001.
121 For more information on the MTCR see CRS Report RL31559, Proliferation Control
Regimes: Background and Status, by Sharon A. Squassoni, Steven R. Bowman, and Carl E.
Through its high profile use in Iraq and Afghanistan and its multi-mission
capabilities, the MQ-1 Predator has become the Department of Defense’s most
recognizable UAV. Developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San
Diego, CA, the Predator has helped to define the modern role of UAVs with its
integrated surveillance payload and armament capabilities. Consequently, Predator
has enjoyed accelerated development schedules as well as increased procurement
funding. The wide employment of the MQ-1 has also facilitated the development of
several closely related UAVs (described below) designed for a variety of missions.
System Characteristics. Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance
UAV, roughly half the size of an Air Force F-16 Falcon. At 27 feet long, 7 feet high
and with a 48 foot wingspan, it has long, thin wings and a tail like an inverted “V”.
The Predator typically operates at 10,000 to 15,000 feet to get the best imagery from
its video cameras, although it has the ability to reach a maximum altitude of 25,000
feet. Each vehicle can remain on station, over 500 nautical miles away from its base,
for 24 hours before returning home. The Air Force’s Predator fleet is operated by the
the 15 and 17 Reconnaissance Squadrons out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Current reorganization efforts will make Indian Springs the home for all three122
squadrons. The CIA reportedly possesses and operates several Predators as well.
Mission and Payload. The Predator’s primary function is reconnaissance and
target acquisition of potential ground targets. To accomplish this mission, the
Predator is outfitted with a 450-lb surveillance payload, which includes two electro-
optical (E-O) cameras and one infrared (IR) camera for use at night. These cameras
are housed in a ball-shaped turret that can be easily seen underneath the vehicle’s
nose. The Predator is also equipped with a Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS)
sensor ball which adds a laser designator to the E-O/IR payload that allows the
Predator to track moving targets. Additionally, the Predator’s payload includes a
synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which enables the UAV to “see” through inclement
weather. The Predator’s satellite communications provide for beyond line-of-sight
operations. In 2001, as a secondary function, the Predator was outfitted with the
ability to carry two Hellfire missiles. Previously, the Predator identified a target and
relayed the coordinates to a manned aircraft, which then engaged the target. The
addition of this anti-tank ordinance enables the UAV to launch a precision attack on
a time sensitive target with a minimized “sensor-to-shoot” time cycle.
Consequently, the Air Force changed the Predator’s military designation from RQ-1B123
(reconnaissance unmanned) to the MQ-1 (multi-mission unmanned). The air
vehicle launches and lands like a regular aircraft, but is controlled by a pilot on the
ground using a joystick.
Variants. MQ-9 Predator B. The MQ-9 Predator, or “Predator B”, is General
Atomic’s follow on to MQ-1, or “Predator A”. The goal of the Predator B project is
122 Elizabeth Rees. “Predator Squadron, Ops Center to Relocate to Indian Springs.” Inside
The Air Force, October 1, 2004.
123 Glenn W. Goodman, JR. “UAVs Come of Age.” The ISR Journal, July 2002, p.24.
to build upon the strengths of the parent UAV and to advance its mission capabilities.
The result is a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance Predator optimized for
surveillance, target acquisition and armed engagement. While the B-model borrows
from the overall design of the A-model, the newest incarnation is longer by 13 feet
in length and 16 feet in wingspan. It also features a 900hp Honeywell TPE 331-10
turbo propjet engine, which is significantly more powerful than the Predator A’s
115hp propjet engine. These upgrades allow the Predator B to reach a maximum
altitude of 50,000 feet, a maximum speed of 225 knots, a maximum endurance of 32
hours and a maximum range on 2000 nautical miles.124 General Atomics also
upgraded the 17-inch diameter MTS camera gimbal to a 22-inch MTS-B gimbal for
extended range surveillance. However, the feature that most differentiates Predator
B from its predecessor is its ordinance capacity. While the Predator A is outfitted to
carry two 100-pound Hellfire missiles, Predator B now can carry as many as 16
Hellfires, equivalent to the Army’s Apache helicopter, or a mix of 500-pound
weapons and Small Diameter Bombs approximately equal to the munitions payload
of an F-16. Additionally, Raytheon has experimented with a mini-UAV known as
“Silent Eyes” to be launched from the fuselage of the Predator B and to serve as a
target identifier in supplement to the laser designator.125
Predator B-ER, “Mariner”. The Predator B-Extended Range or “Mariner” is
less of a next generation Predator and more of hybrid of the Predator B and NASA’s
Altair UAV, also produced by General Atomics. The Mariner was created as a result
of General Atomic’s pursuit of the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance
(BAMS) program contract. As an extended range UAV, the Mariner retains the
original airframe of the Predator, but adds the 86 ft. wing from the Altair and an
increased fuel capacity. The subsequent combination has yielded a surveillance UAV
capable of altitudes of 50,000 feet and a flight endurance of 49 hours. General
Atomic has partnered with Lockheed Martin System and Sensors to integrate an
exterior-mounted maritime radar that will advance the surveillance capabilities of the
Mariner beyond the standard Predator B payload. The Mariner is expected to
compete with Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk for the BAMS contract, and the
vehicle’s proponents hope that Mariner could have a flyaway cost as little $19
million per vehicle.126
Predator C. In addition to the Mariner, General Atomics is currently
developing a third generation Predator that uses a turbo-jet engine to fly long
endurance, high altitude surveillance missions. The Predator C will reportedly use
the fuselage of the Predator B, but will be similar to Northrop Grumman’s Global
Hawk in payload capacity and flight performance. A spokesman for General
124 OSD, UAS Roadmap 2005-2030, August 2005, p. 10.
125 Michale Sirak. “Predator B Faces Fielding Slowdown.” Jane’s Defense Weekly, May 28,
126 Ron Laurenzo. “Global Hawk, New Predator to Compete For Navy Contract.” Defense
Week, December 22, 2003.
Atomics stressed that the Predator C will not be a direct competitor with the Global
I-Gnat-ER. Currently, the Army uses the I-Gnat as a temporary gap-filler for the
RQ-5 Hunter when that UAV is removed from deployment to be overhauled or
modified. Servicemen in the field have characterized the I-Gnat as a downsized
version of the Predator UAV.128 This medium altitude, long-endurance surveillance
and reconnaissance platform is also manufactured by General Atomic Aeronautical
Systems and evolved as an upgraded derivation of the Gnat-750. The I-Gnat-ER
features nearly the same system, payload and performance characteristics as the MQ-
six hours longer than its Air Force sibling, yet it lacks the SAR and Beyond-Line-Of-
Sight (BLOS) capabilities and is engineered for a significantly shorter flight radius.
The Army currently owns three I-Gnat vehicles as the result of an FY2004
Congressional budget increase for ER/MP CONOPS development.129 Two additional
vehicles outfitted with Satellite Communications (SATCOM) data links, MTS
sensor/target designators and Hellfire missiles are expected to be delivered to the
Army by the end of 2005. 130 According to DoD congressional testimony, the I-Gnat
will continue to augment Hunter operations in Iraq.131
Program Status. Predator UAVs are operated as part of a system, which
consists of four air vehicles, a ground control station, and a Predator Primary Satellite
Link. The actual current year cost in FY2005 for one Predator A system was
approximately $18.0 million, while the current year cost (CY05) for a Predator B132
system was $46.8 million. The Air Force currently possesses 57 deployable MQ-1
Predators and fields 12 systems. The current inventory of MQ-9 Predator Bs stands
at six vehicles and initial Pentagon plans anticipate the number to grow to 46 by the
end of FY2011. Recent developments have led many to believe that both Predators
will continue to be some of the Air Force’s most valued assets. During a Senate
Armed Service hearing, Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper said, “We’re133
going to tell General Atomics to build every Predator they can possibly build.”
However, in order to avoid the logistical complications experienced with the
127 Elizabeth Rees. “General Atomics to Roll Out High-Altitude ‘Predator C’ by Year’s
End.” Inside The Air Force, May 13, 2005.
128 Emily Hsu. “Army Deploys ‘Improved Gnat’ UAV to Support Troops in Combat.” Inside
the Army, March 29, 2004.
129 Sgt. 1st Class Marcia Triggs, U.S. Army. “Aviation Unveils Life Without Comanche.”
Army News Service, April 5, 2005.
130 Greg Grant. “US Army Steps Up UAV Efforts.” Defense News, June 27, 2005.
131 Dr. Glenn Martin’s Testimony Before the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee
of the House Armed Services Committee. “Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) and
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).” March 17, 2004.
132 Major Thomas Macias, U.S. Air Force. “Point Paper on Predator Program Acquisition
and Flyaway Cost.” Air Force Legislative Liaison Office, August 18, 2005.
133 U.S. Congress, 109th Congress, 1st Session, Senate, Committee on Armed Services.
“Fiscal 2006 Defense Authorization.” February 10, 2005.
accelerated development of the Predator A in the mid 1990s, the Air Force
announced that the initial operation capability (IOC) of the Predator B has been
pushed back from FY2006 to FY2009. The extra time will be used to ensure that
trained operators, adequate support infrastructures and appropriate operation
strategies are in place.134 In FY2005 and FY2006, Congressional appropriators
increased both Predator R&D and Procurement funding from the President’s Budget
Request. In FY2006, Senate Authorizers supported research into integrating “Viper
Strike” munitions on the Predator. For complete budget activity, see Table 7 below:
Table 5. Predator A & B Combined Funding
($ in Millions)
P r ocurement RDT&E
Request9 air vehicles146.6 81.3
Authorization 9 air vehicles176.6 81.3
Conference Mods 31.8
Appropriations12 air vehicles176.683.2
Appropriations Spar es 8
Request9 air vehicles125.561
Authorization, House15 air vehicles210 .561
Authorization, Senate9 air vehicles125.566
Appropriations, House13 air vehicles177.563.5
Appropriations, Senate9 air vehicles125.563.5
Source for all funding tables in this section:
FY2005 Auth: H.R. 4200, P.L. 108-375, H.Rept. 108-767
FY2005 Appro: H.R. 4613, P.L. 108-287, H.Rept. 108-622
FY2005 Emergency Supplemental: H.R. 1268
FY2006 Auth: H.R. 1815, H.Rept. 109-89, S. 1042, S.Rept. 109-69
FY2006 Appro: H.R. 2863, H.Rept. 109-119, H.R. 2863, S.Rept. 109-141
134 Michale Sirak. “Predator B Faces Fielding Slowdown.” Jane’s Defense Weekly, May 28,
The Pioneer UAV has gained distinction for its nearly twenty years of service
to the Navy, Army and Marine Corps. Originally developed by Israeli Aircraft
Industries (IAI), RQ-2 Pioneer was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1986.
Subsequently, Aircraft Armaments Incorporated out of Hunt Valley, MD and IAI
jointly manufactured the Pioneer for the Navy, U.S. Marine Corp and the U.S. Army.
The UAV was often employed in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm for
reconnaissance and Naval gun spotting missions. At the end of FY2002 the Navy
ended its use of the air vehicle and passed its assets to the Marine Corps, which
intends to field the RQ-2 until either 2010 or until a Vertical Take off and Landing
UAV (VTUAV) is ready for operation.135 Many believe that Pioneer has remained
useful during its service life by being durable-the Marine Corp unofficially refers to
the vehicle as “Old Reliable”-and by undergoing several progressive performance
System Characteristics. At 14 feet long, the Pioneer is roughly half the size
of the Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator A UAV. It can reach a maximum altitude of 15,000
feet, but flies an optimal altitude of 5,000 feet above its target. The vehicle can
achieve flight by rocket-assisted takeoff (RATO), a catapult launcher, or traditional
runway takeoff from land or from ships. Pioneer is maintains a flight range of 100
nautical miles. The propeller driven SF-350 piston engine keeps the UAV aloft for
up to five hours. The Pioneer can land on a runway or can be recovered using a
retrieval net when a runway is unavailable. Since 1986, Pioneer has flown over
including more than 7,500 flight hours during Operation Iraq Freedom.
Mission and Payload. The mission of the Pioneer is to provide real-time
intelligence and a reconnaissance capability to field commanders. Pioneer can be
used for over-the-horizon targeting, surveillance, Naval gunfire spotting, and battle
damage assessment. Its 75 lb payload consists of a combined E-O/IR camera. Other
payloads that have been demonstrated include a meteorological sensor, a mine
detection sensor and a chemical detection sensor.
Program Status. The Navy had planned to retire the Pioneer in 2004 and
replace it with the VTUAV. However, when it quit that program, the Navy gave all
of its Pioneer systems to the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps hopes keep them
flying another 10 years through a product improvement program.137 Current
procurement funds are geared towards post-production support. In FY2005 and
FY2006, DoD’s Pioneer procurement requests contained funding for upgrade kits
only and no actual system or vehicle procurement appropriations. According to the
Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the final year of production, the Pioneer
135 Peter La Franchi. “Directory: Unmanned Air Vehicles.” Flight International, June 21st,
136 B.C. Kessner and Lorenzo Cortes., “Reliable, But Unglamorous Pioneer Epitomizes
Legacy UAV Predicament.” Defense Daily, April 27, 2004.
137 Glenn W. Goodman Jr. “UAVs Come Of Age.” The ISR Journal, July 2002. p.28.
system, which includes five vehicles, a ground control station with supporting
equipment and launch/recovery devices, cost $17.2 million in FY2004 dollars. The
Marine Corps currently possesses 35 Pioneer UAVs operated out of MCAS Twenty
Nine Palms, CA, MCAS Cherry Point, NC and with the Marine Aviation Detachment
in Paxtuxent River, MD.
Table 6. Pioneer Funding
($ in Millions)
P r ocurement RDT&E
RQ-4 Global Hawk
Recently, Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk has gained distinction as
the largest and most expensive UAV currently in operation for the Department of
Defense. This large UAV incorporates a diverse surveillance payload with
performance capabilities that rival or exceed most manned spy planes. The Global
Hawk’s surveillance achievements in demonstrations and over the battlefield have
led many to believe that the RQ-4A and its successor, the RQ-4B, play an important
role in the future of ISR. However, the complex task of adding specific intelligence
systems to the payload configuration has helped to keep this high altitude, long
endurance UAV from advancing beyond developmental stage despite extensive
operational deployment. Many Pentagon officials and Congressional members have
become increasingly concerned with the program’s burgeoning cost and have
subsequently slowed development progress until adequate program controls are
138 For the most recent Congressional concerns, see House Report 109-89. House Armed
Service Committee “National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2006.” May 20,
System Characteristics. At 44 feet long and weighing 26, 750 lbs, Global
Hawk is about as large as a medium sized corporate jet. Global Hawk flies at nearly
twice the altitude of commercial airliners and can stay aloft at 65,000 feet for as long
as 35 hours. It can fly to a target area 5,400 nautical miles away, loiter at 60,000 feet
while monitoring an area the size of that state of Illinois for 24 hours, and then return.
Global Hawk was originally designed to be an autonomous drone capable of taking
off, flying, and landing on pre-programmed inputs to the UAV’s flight computer. Air
Force operators have found, however, that the UAV requires frequent intervention139
by remote operators. The RQ-4B resembles the RQ-4A, yet features a significantly
larger airframe. In designing the B-model, Northrop Grumman increased the Global
Hawk’s length from 44 feet to 48 feet and its wingspan from 116 feet to 132 feet.
The expanded size enables the RQ-4B to carry an extra 1000 lbs. of surveillance
Mission and Payload. The Global Hawk UAV has been called “the theater
commander’s around-the-clock, low-hanging (surveillance) satellite.”140 The UAV
provides a long-dwell presence over the battlespace, giving military commanders a
persistent source of high quality imagery that has proven valuable in surveillance and
interdiction operations. The RQ-4A’s current imagery payload consists of a 2,000-lb
integrated suite of sensors much larger than those found on the Predator. These
sensors include an all-weather SAR with Moving Target Indicator (MTI) capability,
an E-O digital camera and an IR sensor. As the result of a January 2002 Air Force
requirements summit, Northrop Grumman expanded its payload to make it a multi-
intelligence air vehicle. The subsequent incarnation, the RQ-4B, is outfitted with an
open-system architecture that enables the vehicle to carry multiple payloads, such as
signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) sensors.
Furthermore, the classified Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program
(MP-RTIP) payload will be added in order to increase radar capabilities. These new
sensor packages will enable operators to eavesdrop on radio transmissions or to
identify enemy radar from extremely high altitudes. Future plans include adding
hyper-spectral sensors for increased imagery precision and incorporating laser
communications to expand information transfer capabilities.141 The end goal is to
field a UAV that will work with space-based sensors to create a “staring net” that will
prevent enemies from establishing a tactical surprise.142 In August of 2003, the
Federal Aviation Administration granted the Global Hawk authorization to fly in
U.S. civilian airspace, which further expanded the vehicles’ mission potential.143 This
distinction, in combination with the diverse surveillance capabilities, has led many
officials outside the Pentagon to consider the Global Hawk an attractive candidate
139 Jeff Morrison. “USAF No Longer Viewing Global Hawk As An Autonomous System,
Official Says.” Aerospace Daily, December 3rd, 2005.
140 Glenn W. Goodman, Jr. “UAVs Come Of Age.” The ISR Journal, July 2002.
141 David A. Fulghum. “Global Hawk Shows Off Updated Package of Sensor Aviation Week & Space
Technology.” Aviation Week Intelligence Network. September 08, 2003.
143 Sue Baker. “FAA Authorizes Global Hawk Flights.” Aeronautical Systems Center Public Affairs,
August 21, 2003.
for anti-drug smuggling and Coast Guard operations.144 Documentation from the
Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) indicates that the RQ-4A is expected to
reach initial operational capability (IOC) in 2006.145
Program Status. Developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation of Palmdale,
CA, Global Hawk entered low-rate-initial-production in February 2002. The Air
Force has stated that it intends to acquire 51 Global Hawks, at an expected cost of
$6.6 billion for development and procurement costs. Currently, the Air Force
possesses 12 RQ-4A vehicles. According to the most recent Select Acquisition
Report, the current program-unit cost for the Global Hawk has reached $128.7146
million. In April 2005, the Air Force reported to Congress that the program had
overrun by 18% as a result of an “increasing aircraft capacity to accommodate
requirements for a more sophisticated, integrated imagery and signals intelligence
senor suite”.147 A Government Accountability Office Report in December 2004
noted that the program had increased by nearly $900 million since 2001 and
recommended delaying the purchase of future Global Hawks until an appropriate148
development strategy could be implemented. The rising costs of the UAV and
accusations of Air Force mismanagement have caused concern among many in
Congress and in the Pentagon as well as facilitating an overall debate on the Air
Force’s development strategy.149 The Conferees of the FY2005 Defense
Authorization Bill [House Report 108-767] admonished the Air Force’s management
strategy for not using previously authorized funds for a counter-drug surveillance
evaluation program. They noted that “the committee suspects the Air Force used the
$18.0 million set aside in 2001 for the counter-drug demonstration to meet other150
requirements of the Global Hawk development program”. As a result, the
Conferees recommended a cut of $18 million to the President’s R&D request for the
Global Hawk. The final appropriation bill [Public Law 108-335] cut the R&D
request by six million dollars. In June of 2004, the House Appropriations Committee
expressed serious concern over Air Force’s accelerated development strategy and
consequently cut the president’s budget request for advanced procurement by $21.3151
million and current year procurement by $89.86 million. The current year
procurement cut transferred one RQ-4A to the Navy for FY2005. Neither of the cuts
144 Ron Laurenzo. “Global Hawk Scouts Ahead for Other UAVs.” DEFENSE WEEK, September 2,
145 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 6.
146 OSD. Selected Acquisition Report. December 31, 2004, p. 11.
147 James R. Asker. “Global Hawk 18% Over Budget.” Aviation Week & Space Technology, April
148 United States Government Accountability Office. GAO-05-6 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Changes
in Global Hawk’s Acquisition Strategy Are Needed to Reduce Program Risks. November 2004, p.
149 See House Report 109-89. House Armed Service Committee “National Defense Authorization Act
for the Fiscal Year 2006.” May 20, 2005, p. 91.
150 U.S. Congress, 108th Congress, 2nd Session, Committee of Conference, Ronald W. Reagan
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, House Report 108-767, p.209-210.
151 See House Report 108-553, accompanying H.R. 4613, 108th Congress, June 18th 2004, p. 193-194.
survived conference and the Air Force’s procurement budget request was fully
funded for FY2005. In December 2004, Michael Wynne, acting Under Secretary of
Defense for Acquisitions, emphasized that DoD would not purchase UAVs that cost
as much as manned aircraft of equivalent capabilities. Of the Global Hawk, Wynne
noted that the vehicle had gone from being “relatively inexpensive to [where it] now
approaches what we have paid for some bombers in the past”.152 As a result of
increasing cost criticism, the Air Force devised a plan in early 2005 intended to
restructure the Global Hawk program in an effort to facilitate IOC by the end of
2005. The House Appropriations Committee cut the President’s FY2006 current year
procurement request by $110 million, advance procurement request by $10 million
and increased Global Hawk R&D by $21 million. Final appropriations and
authorizations await the Senate Defense Appropriations and Senate Defense
Authorization (S. 1042, Senate Armed Services Committee Report 109-69) bills. See
Table 9 for a complete overview of FY2005 and FY2006 funding.
Table 7. Global Hawk Funding
($ in Millions)
P r ocurement RDT&E
Request4 air vehicles287.7336.1
Authorization Conference4 air vehicles287.7 336.1
Appropriations Conference4 air vehicles287.7 336.1
Request5 air vehicles327.6308.5
Authorization, House4 air vehicles297.7308.5
Authorization, Senate5 air vehicles327.6308.5
Appropriations, House3 air vehicles199.4329.7
Appropriations, Senate5 air vehicles 327.6317.5
152 Dave Ahearn. “Northrop Grumman Defends $30 Million Global Hawk Cost.” Defense Today.
December 17, 2004.
RQ-5A Hunter / MQ-5B Hunter II
Originally co-developed by Israel Aircraft Industries and TRW (now owned by
Northrop Grumman) for a joint U.S. Army/Navy/Marine Corps short range UAV, the
Hunter system has found a home as one of the Army’s principle unmanned platforms.
The service has deployed the RQ-5A for tactical ISR in support of numerous ground
operations around the world. At one time, the Army planned to acquire 52 Hunter
integrated systems of eight air vehicles a piece, but the Hunter program has
experienced some turbulence. The Army canceled full-rate-production of the RQ-5A
in 1996, but continued to use the seven systems already produced. It acquired 18
MQ-5B Hunter IIs through low-rate-initial-production in FY2004 and FY2005. The
MQ-5B’s design includes longer endurance and the capability to be outfitted with
anti-tank munitions. Both variants are currently operated by the 224th Military
Intelligence Battalion out of Fort Steward, GA; by the 15th Military Intelligence
Battalion out of Ft. Hood, TX; and by 1st Military Intelligence Battalion out of
System Characteristics. The RQ-5A can fly at altitudes up to 15,000 feet,
reach speeds of 106 knots, and spend up to 12 hours in the air. Weighing 1,600 lbs,
it has an operating radius of 144 nautical miles. The MQ-5B includes an elongated
wingspan of 34.3 feet up from 29.2 feet of the RQ-5A and a more powerful Mercedes
High-Fuel Engine, which allows the Hunter II to stay airborne for three extra hours
and to reach altitudes of 18,000 feet.153
Mission and Payload.. During its years of service, the Army has used the
Hunter system mostly for short and medium range surveillance and reconnaissance.
More recently, however, the Army has explored the expansion of the Hunter’s
missions, including weaponization for tactical reconnaissance/strike operations and
border surveillance for the Department of Homeland Security. The Hunter primarily
uses a gimbaled E-O/IR sensor payload for its ISR functions, yet a 2003 Northrop
Grumman demonstration showcased a new ground operated SAR/MTI (moving
target indicator) sensor on the Hunter as part of a potential Tactical Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle Radar (TUAVR) package.154 The Hunter II is also set to receive an advanced
software architecture in order to ease the integration of future payloads and to extend
the vehicle’s service-life. During the later half of 2004, Northrop Grumman tested
a variety of munitions as part of the Hunter payload. The Viper Strike precision
guided munitions, which can designate targets either from the munition’s laser, from
another aerial platform or from a ground system, appears to be weapon of choice for
the Hunter system. This weapon allows the Hunter to provide accurate strikes at
targets that elude the Hellfire missile, and makes the Hunter the Army’s first armed
Program Status. The Army has halted production on the RQ-5 Hunter and
now fills service gaps in the Hunter force with the I-Gnat-ER. As of February 2005,
all 32 Hunter UAVs are still in operation and periodically receive upgrades and
153 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 7
154 “Army Test NG-Built SAR/MTI Sensors on Hunter UAV” Aerospace Daily, June 23, 2003.
modifications. The Hunter system consists of eight aircraft, ground control systems
and support devices, and launch/recovery equipment. In FY2004, the final year of
Hunter procurement, a Hunter system cost $26.5 million. The FY2005 and FY2006
Defense budgets contained no funds for the procurement or R&D of any RQ-5
system. An August 2005 announcement revealed that the Army awarded General
Atomic’s Warrior UAV the contract for the Extended Range-Multi Purpose (ER-MP)
UAV program over the Hunter II.155 Despite the loss, Northrop Grumman expects to
continue to market the Hunter II to the rest of the services over the next few years.156
The RQ-7 Shadow found a home when the Army, after a two decade search
for a suitable system, selected AAI’s close range surveillance platform for its tactical
unmanned aerial vehicle (TUAV) program. Originally, the Army, in conjunction
with the Navy explored several different UAVs for the TUAV program, including the
now-cancelled RQ-6 Outrider system. However, in 1997 after the Navy pursued
other alternatives, the Army opted for the low cost, simple design of the RQ-7
Shadow 200. Having reached full production capacity and an IOC in 2002, the
Shadow has become the primary airborne ISR tool of numerous Army units around
the world and is expected to remain in service through the decade.
System Characteristics. Built by AAI Corporation of Hunt Valley, MD, the
Shadow is 11 feet long with a wingspan of 13 feet. It has a range of 68 nautical
miles, a distance picked to match typical Army brigade operations, and an average
flight duration of five hours. Although the Shadow can reach a maximum altitude
of 14,000 feet, its optimum level is 8,000 feet. The Shadow is catapulted from a rail-
launcher, and recovered with the aid of arresting gear. The UAV also possesses
automatic takeoff and landing capabilities. The upgraded version, the RQ-7B
Shadow, features a greater wingspan by 16 inches and larger fuel capacity that allows
for an extra two hours of flight endurance.
Mission and Payload. The Shadow provides real-time reconnaissance,
surveillance and target acquisition information to the Army at the brigade level. A
potential mission for the Shadow is the perilous job of medical resupply. The Army
is considering expanding the UAV’s traditional missions to include a medical role,
where several crucial items such as blood, vaccines and fluid infusion systems could
be delivered to troops via parachute.157 Unlike the RQ-5 Hunter, the Shadow will not158
be outfitted with weapons capabilities. For surveillance purposes, the Shadow’s
60-pound payload consists of an E-O/IR sensor turret which produces day or night
video, and can relay data to a ground station in real-time via a line-of-sight data link.
As part of the Army’s Future Combat System plans, the Shadow will be outfitted
155 Jefferson Morris. “Army More Than Doubles Expected Order for ERMP with General Atomics
Win.” Aerospace Daily & Defense Report. August 10th, 2005.
157 Erin Q. Winograd. “Army Eyes Shadow UAVs Potential For Medical Resupply Missions.”
InsideDefense.com, [http://www.InsideDefense.com]. December 20, 2002, p.14.
158 Kevin Mauer. “Pilotless Plane guides 82nd.” Fayetteville Observer, August 13, 2004.
with the Tactical Common Data Link currently in development to network the UAV
with battalion commanders, ground units and other air vehicles.159
Program Status. The Army currently maintains an inventory of 100 Shadow
UAVs at Ft. Bragg, Ft. Hood, Ft. Lewis, Ft. Stewart, Ft. Wainwright, at military
bases in Germany and Korea, and with National Guard units in Baltimore, MD and160
Indian Town Gap, PA. The program cost for a Shadow UAV system — which
includes four vehicles, ground control equipment, launch and recovery devices,
remote video terminals, and High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles for
transportation-reached $16.4 million in current year dollars for FY2005.161 The
Army intends to use the Shadow as the interim Class III TUAV for the future combat
systems project, which the Army expects to reach IOC in 2014.162 In FY2005 the
Army procured eight TUAV systems, but only requested $26 million in FY2006 for
retrofitting the existing Shadow fleet with previously developed upgrades and
modifications. Total RDT&E requests equalled $53.6 million in FY2005 and $139.6
million in FY2006. In FY2005, the Appropriations Conferees increased the request
amount by nearly a third, while in FY2006 the House Appropriators matched the
Table 8. RQ-7 Shadow Funding
P r ocurement RDT&E
Request 100.5 45.6
**Markup includes funding for RDT&E of an I-Gnat ER system
159 “Upgraded Shadow UAV Rolls Off Production Line.” Defense Today, August 5, 2004.
160 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 8.
161 OSD. Army Procurement BA 02: Communications and Electronics FY2006, February 2005,
TUAV (B00301), Item No. 62, p. 1 of 16.
162 Peter La Franchi. “Directory: Unmanned Air Vehicles.” Flight International, June 21, 2005.
Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS)
In the mid 1990s, the Pentagon began developing a UAV designed primarily for
combat missions. The result was two separate Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles
(UCAV) programs, the Air Force’s UCAV and the Navy’s UCAV-N demonstrator
program. The Air Force favored Boeing’s X-45 for its program, while Northrop
Grumman’s X-47 Pegasus and Boeing’s X-46 competed for the Navy’s project.
However, in June 2003, the Pentagon merged the two separated programs in order
to establish the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) project under the
management of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The
objective of the J-UCAS merger was to create a flexible offensive network in which
the air and ground elements are adapted to meet specific combat mission.163 As part
of Program Budget Decision (PBD) 753 in December 2004, DARPA was ordered to
transfer administration of the J-UCAS resources to Air Force, which will form a joint
program planning committee with the Navy.164 While questions surround the
direction in which the Air Force will move the program forward, statements from the
Pentagon have indicated that the program will maintain a competitive environment
between Boeing and Northrop Grumman’s vehicles.165
System Characteristics. Currently, J-UCAS consists of two variants from
the Navy and Air Force’s previous programs. Featuring a length of 39 feet and a
wingspan of 49 feet, the X-45C evolved as an enhanced cross-breed of the two
evaluation X-45A vehicles DARPA inherited from the Air Force and the Boeing’s
experimental X-46A submission for the Navy program. Powered by General
Electric’s GE F404-102D turbojet engine, the X-45C is expected to achieve speeds
of 450 knots and altitudes of 40,000 feet. Furthermore, the X-45 can stay aloft for
up to seven hours and operate at a range of 1,200 nautical miles. When engineering
the X-45C, Boeing experimented with airframe designs that maximized the stealth
capabilities of the UAV system. They landed on the larger arrowhead design, which
resembles fellow stealth aircraft like the B-2 Spirit Bomber and F117A-Nighthawk.
As the X-45C’s competitor, Northrop Grumman’s X-47B, an advanced version of the
UCAV-N’s X-47A, is nearly as long as the X-45C, yet possess a significantly greater
wingspan of 62 feet. The increased wingspan in combination with the more powerful
Pratt & Whitney F100-220U turbojet engine will allow X-47B an endurance of nine
hours and range of 1,600 nautical miles. The speed and altitude of the Pegasus is
expected to match that of the X45-C. The X-47B retains a smooth and sleek design
optimized for stealth but features folding wing-tips that cut down on size, making it166
more suitable for storage aboard an aircraft carrier. Designs are in place for the X-
and Naval technology. Both aircraft possesses automated flight capabilities.
163 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 11.
164 OSD. Program Budget Decision 753. December 23, 2004, p. 9.
165 Sharon Weinberger. “J-UCAS May Lead to Multiple Air Vehicles”. Defense Daily, March 15th,
166 “UCAVs and Future Military Aeronautics.” Military Technology, June 2005, p. 100.
Potential Mission and Payload. Initially, the separate Navy and Air Force
programs envisioned UCAV combat missions specific to the needs of the individual
services. The Air Force intended the X-45's primary mission to be the suppression
of enemy air defenses (SEAD) and secondary mission of electronic attack warfare.168
The Navy planned to use its UCAV for armed intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance.169 The payloads of each vehicle are expected to be tailored to the
respective mission. Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman’s systems will possess
internal weapons bays and will be capable of carrying guided weapons similar to
those of conventional strike aircraft. The current weapon choice for the X-45C and
the X-47B is the GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). Both vehicles will
feature SARs, Electronic Support Measure sensor suites (ESM), and Ground Moving
Target Indicators (GMTI). Additionally, the X-47B’s payload will include an E-
O/IR camera combination in order to augment its surveillance and reconnaissance
Program Status. Since its inception, the UCAV programs have experienced
a constant change in administration and organization, which many believe will affect
the pace of development. In 2003, the Air Force and Navy’s respective UCAV
projects were combined under the DARPA controlled J-UCAS program in order to
facilitate interoperability and development synergy. In September of 2004, DARPA
hired the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory as a not-for-profit
integrator/broker in charge of promoting cooperation for common vehicle
architectures.170 In a move viewed by several observers as an abrupt reversal, the
Office of the Secretary of Defense instructed the Air Force to take control over the
project. The subsequent fluctuation of J-UCAS management appears to complicate
forecasting of the program’s future. Development of the combat UAV has been
advanced via the spiral development process.171 Currently, the J-UCAS aircraft
inventory includes two X-45A air vehicles and one X-47A air vehicle. OSD plans
indicate that three X-45Cs three and the X-47Bs will be delivered by the end of 2006.
Operational flight assessments of both vehicles are expected to begin in 2007.172 The
total money spent on the J-UCAS/UCAV program, which prior to FY2006 reached
more than $1.45 billion in RDT&E funding, made it one of the most expensive UAV
ventures undertaken by DoD. For recent funding developments, see Table 11.
168 Steven J. Zaloga. “World Missile Briefing.” The Teal Group Corporation. February
169 Amy Butler. “OSD Eyes E-10A As Possible Billpayer For Attack Drone Program.”
Defense Daily, December 5th, 2003.
171 For more information on spiral development, see CRS Report RS21195, Evolutionary
Acquisition and Spiral Development in DOD Programs: Policy Issues for Congress, by
Gary J. Pagliano and Ronald O'Rourke.
172 Amy Butler. “Contractors Seek Program Stability with USAF J-UCAS Oversight.”
Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 20th, 2005, p. 44.
Table 9. J-UCAS Funding
($ in Millions)
Demonstration & Advanced Tech.
Request 422.9 284.6
Authorization Conference 222.9 284.6
Appropriations 222.9 363.6
Request 272.3 77.8
RQ-8B Fire Scout
Currently in the engineering and manufacturing development phase of
production, the Fire Scout was initially designed as the Navy’s choice for an
unmanned helicopter capable of reconnaissance, situational awareness and precise
targeting.173 While the Navy canceled production of the Fire Scout in 2001,
Northrop Grumman’s vertical take-off UAV was rejuvenated by the Army in 2003,
when the Army designated the Fire Scout as the interim Class IV UAV for the future
combat system. The Army’s interest spurred renewed Navy funding for the RQ-8,
making the Fire Scout DoD’s first joint UAV helicopter. Recent experimentation
and evaluation efforts have explored the possibility of arming the Fire Scout and
adding multiple and non-traditional mission capabilities to the platform.
System Characteristics and Mission. Northrop Grumman based the
design of the Fire Scout on a commercial Schweitzer Co. helicopter. As an upgrade
from the original RQ-8A, the RQ-8B Fire Scout features an advanced four-blade
173 “RQ-8A Fire Scout, Vertical Take Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
(VTUAV)” GlobalSecurity.org, [http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/vtuav.htm],
April 26th, 2004.
rotor design to reduce the aircraft’s acoustic signature.174 With a basic 127 lbs
payload, the Fire Scout can stay aloft for up to 9.5 hours. With the full capacity
sensor payload the helicopter UAV endurance diminishes to roughly six hours. The
vehicle also possesses autonomous flight capabilities. The surveillance payload
consists of a laser designator and range finder, an IR camera and a multi-color EO
camera, which when adjusted with specific filters could provide mine-detection
capabilities.175 The Fire Scout currently possesses line-of-sight communication data
links. Northrop Grumman officials hope to expand the communications capabilities
to include a wideband data relay from another airborne platform and possible satellite
communications.176 Accompanying the renewed interest in the Fire Scout is an
expanded vision of mission capabilities, which most notably includes the armament
of the helicopter UAV for strike missions. Recent weaponization plans have
included the integration of Hydra folding-fin rockets, 2.75 inch Mark 66 unguided
rockets, or the Hellfire II anti-tank missiles. Discussions of future missions have also
covered border patrol, search and rescue operations, medical resupply and submarine
Program Status. Currently, five RQ-8A air vehicles accompanied by four
ground stations have reached the developmental testing phase of the acquisition
process. These evaluation Fire Scouts were produced as low-rate-initial-production
vehicles. The Pentagon’s 2005 UAS Roadmap estimates a future inventory of 192
vehicles between both the Army and Navy.178 The Army anticipates full-rate-179
production in 2008 and IOC by 2010. Furthermore, the Army intends to use the
Fire Scout as the interim brigade-level UAV for its Future Combat System180
program, while the Navy selected the RQ-8B to support the Littoral Combat Ship
class of surface vessels.181 Fire Scout funding is spread out through a variety of Navy
and Army programs.
174 David A. Fulghum. “Army Adopts Northrop Grumman’s Helicopter UAV.” Aviation Week &
Space Technology, October 20th, 2003.
175 Northrop Grumman Corp Press Release. “Northrop Grumman’s Next-Generation Fire Scout UAV
on Track.” June 23rd, 2005.
176 David A. Fulghum. “Army Adopts Northrop Grumman’s Helicopter UAV.” Aviation Week &
Space Technology. October 20th, 2003.
178 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 9.
179 Peter La Franchi. “Directory: Unmanned Air Vehicles.” Flight International, June 21st, 2005, p.
180 The Army intends to field four different classes of UAVs as part of its Future Conbat
System (FCS): Class I for platoons, Class II for companies, Class III for battalions, and
Class IV for brigades. See CRS Report RL32888: The Army’s Future Combat System
(FCS): Background and Issues for Congress, by Andrew Feickert, for more information.
181 Northrop Grumman Corp Press Release. “Northrop Grumman’s Next-Generation Fire Scout UAV
on Track.” June 23rd, 2005.
In February 2003, the Coast Guard selected the Bell Helicopter Textron’s
TR911D Eagle Eye tilitrotor UAV for its Deepwater Modernization program. A
partnership of manufacturers, led by Bell and including Lockheed Martin and AAI,
manages the development of the Eagle Eye.183 The $3 million Eagle Eye takes off
vertically like a helicopter, but then tilts down its rotors to fly like a plane. The Coast
Guard, anticipates the eventual acquisition of 69 vehicles, which will extend the
surveillance capability of their cutters.184 Able to patrol the U.S. coastline for drug
smugglers, refugees and ships in distress, the Eagle Eye will also be able to transmit
video and infrared images to the cutter and command centers ashore. Furthermore,
the vehicle can fly up to 220 knots and has an operational radius of roughly 300
miles, which surpasses the performance capabilities of comparable VUAVs.185
Subsequently, Marine Corps officials have expressed interest in the Eagle Eye as a
short to medium range replacement for the RQ-2 Pioneer. 186
Force Protection Aerial Surveillance System (FPASS). Serving as part of the Air
Force’s airbase defense system, Lockheed Martin’s FPASS currently monitors the
perimeter of several airbases in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to prevent enemy
incursions or terrorists attacks. Known to airmen as the Desert Hawk, this battery
operated, propeller driven UAV was developed in 1999 at the request of U.S. Central
Command (CENTCOM) to improve situational awareness through area surveillance,
patrols of base-perimeters and runway/departure paths, and aerial spotting for ground
convoys. The Desert Hawk’s small size, light weight and Styrofoam body have led
many servicemen to draw comparison to remote-controlled model planes. The simple
design, however, appears conducive to on-the-job repairs, which operators perform
routinely with tape or glue.187 Launched by a shoulder mounted slingshot device, the
aircraft flies preprogrammed paths for up to one hour and lands through a controlled
crash. The Desert Hawk carries either a small digital or infrared camera and can
operate as far away as six nautical miles. The total inventory of Desert Hawks for
182 The Eagle Eye is not currently a DoD UAV program. However, it merits attention in this
report because if fielded, it could likely be used in Homeland Defense scenarios. Also,
Marine Corps and Navy officials have expressed interest in VTUAVs such as Eagle Eye.
183 Christopher J. Castelli. “Bell Signs Industry Agreement for Eagle Eye Tiltrotor UAV.” Inside the
Navy, August 2nd, 2004.
184 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 19.
185 Jefferson Morris. “No Plans To Use Fire Scout UAV, Deepwater Team Leader Says.” Aerospace
Daily, August 12th, 2002, p.4.
186 Lorenzo Cortes. “Marine Corps Looks to Eagle Eye for VUAV Requirements.” Defense Daily,
April 22nd, 2004, p.3.
187 Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez. “Desert Hawk Gives Security Forces an Eye in Sky.” 379th Air
Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, U.S. Air Force, July 21st, 2004.
the Air Force stands at 126 vehicles.188 Each system, including ground control
stations, six vehicles and spare parts, costs approximately $300,000.189
Dragon Eye. AeroVironment’s Dragon Eye provides Marines at the company
level and below with reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities.
This backpack carried, battery operated UAV features a 3.8 ft. rectangular wing,
twin propellers and two cameras ports each capable of supporting day-light electro-
optical cameras, low-light TV cameras, and infrared cameras. Using autonomous
GPS navigation, Dragon Eye surveys preprogrammed area and relays near real-time
images to a control station on the ground. The compact and lightweight design of the
UAV allows an operational endurance of 45 minutes and can travel as far as two and
a half nautical miles from the operator. Low-rate-initial-production of 40 aircraft
began in 2001. However, after a 2003 operational assessment, the Marine Corps
awarded AeroVironment a contract to deliver approximately 300 systems of full-rate-
production Dragon Eyes.190 One Dragon Eye system consists of three air vehicles and
one ground station. The FY2006 Marine Corps procurement budget request
anticipated the current unit cost per Dragon Eye system as $154,000.191
FQM-151 Pointer. Currently in service in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)
and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the Pointer is a short range reconnaissance and
battlefield surveillance UAV developed by AeroVironment. The Pointer is capable
of greater flight endurance (two hours) than most similar small UAVs, in part due to
its relative large wingspan. The Pointer weighs in at nearly 8.5 lbs and features a 9
foot wingspan, which decreases portability when part of a system of two air vehicles
and a ground control unit. As a result, transportation of a Pointer system requires two
personnel.192 The battery-operated UAV carries either an IR or a daytime E-O sensor
and has remained a valued short range ISR asset for the Air Force and Special
Operations Command. Currently, these two organizations own 50 Pointer systems
and, according to OSD documentation, plan to purchase an additional 50 systems in
the near future for OIF and OEF.193 AeroVironment is in the process of developing
the Pointer’s successor, the Puma, which is expected to have an endurance of four
hours and be capable of simultaneously carrying E-O and IR cameras.194
Raven. AeroVironment’s development of the Raven emerged from the
company’s attempt to maximize the simplicity, portability and short range utility of
mini-UAVs for the warfighter. Engineered from the basic design of the Pointer, the
188 Peter La Franchi. “Directory: Unmanned Air Vehicles.” Flight International, June 21st, 2005, p.
189 “Desert Hawk Miniature UAV.” International Online Defense Magazine, January 28th, 2005.
190 Peter La Franchi. “Directory: Unmanned Air Vehicles.” Flight International, June 21st, 2005, p.
191 Department of the Navy, FY2006-FY2007 Budget Estimate - Marine Corps Procurement,
February 2005, BLI No. 474700, Item 44, p. 20 of 22.
193 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 27.
194 Bill Sweetman. “Mini-UAVs — the Next Small Thing.” Jane’s Information Group, 2005.
Raven is two-thirds the size and weight of its predecessor, making it backpackable.195
The Raven provides Army and SOCOM personnel with “over-the-hill”
reconnaissance, sniper spotting and surveillance scouting of intended convoy routes.
The advanced electric motor initiates flight once hand-launched by a running start
from the ground operator. The vehicle is powered by an electric battery that needs
to be recharged after 90 minutes, but deployed soldiers are equipped with four
auxiliary batteries that can be easily charged using the 28 volt DC outlet in a
Humvee. The vehicle lands via a controlled crash in which the camera separates from
the body, which is composed of Kevlar plating for extra protection. Like the
Pointer, the Raven can carry either an IR or an E-O camera and transmits real-time
images to its ground operators. The relatively simple system allows soldiers to be
trained in-theater in a matter of days. Raven systems can either be deployed in three
aircraft or two-aircraft configurations. The Army and SOCOM have purchased 185
and 70 three-aircraft systems respectively, while the Air Force is currently in the
process of buying 41 two-aircraft systems.196 A three-aircraft system costs
Silver Fox. Developed by Advanced Ceramic Research in conjunction with the
Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Silver Fox is a Diesel-powered, front propeller
UAV designed for tactical ISR support of brigade and battalion forces. With a five
foot fuselage and an eight foot wingspan, the twenty pound vehicle achieves flight
through a compressed air catapult or by hand, depending on wind speed. The
fuselage houses both a daylight E-O and a micro-IR camera for surveillance
purposes. While ONR and Advanced Ceramic Research Inc. began development of
the Silver Fox in early 2003, the vehicle now supports U.S. forces in Iraq through a
variety of undisclosed applications. Currently 20-30 systems of three vehicles each
are planned for the Navy.198
Scan Eagle. While still in development, the Scan Eagle, has gained notice for
its long endurance capabilities and relative low cost. The single propeller gasoline
powered UAV features a wingspan two and a half times the length of its fuselage.
The narrow 10 foot wings allow the 40 lb. vehicle to reach altitudes as high as 19,000
feet, distances of more than 60 nautical miles and a flight endurance of almost 20
hours. Developed by Boeing and the Insitu Group as a “launch-and-forget” UAV,
the Scan Eagle autonomously flies to points of interest selected by a ground
operator.199 Using an inertially stabilized camera turret carrying both E-O and IR
sensors, the Scan Eagle currently provides Marine Corps units in Iraq with force-
protection ISR. The vehicle achieves flight through the use of a pneumatic launcher
and lands through the Skyhook recovery system. Scan Eagle can be launched from
195 Peter La Franchi. “Directory: Unmanned Air Vehicles.” Flight International, June 21st, 2005, p.
197 Staff Sgt. Raymond Piper. “Eye in the Sky: The Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.” Army
News Service, February 21, 2005.
198 OSD. UAS Roadmap 2005-2030. August 2005, p. 27.
199 Jim Garamone. “ScanEagle Proves Worth in Fallujah Fight.” American Forces Press
Service, January 11th, 2005.
the deck of a ship. Furthermore, the UAV’s sensor data links possess the “Cursor-
on-Target” feature, making a Scan Eagle system of eight vehicles interoperable with
other legacy UAV systems. The Marine Corps, which is evaluating two systems
under lease, expects the price of a single Scan Eagle to be approximately $100,000.