DOD to cut unmanned aerial vehicle procurement by one third over next decade

By John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va.–The early years of the 21st century have seen explosive growth in U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) purchases of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but DOD is expected to cut UAV procurement by one-third over the next decade, predict defense industry analysts who are members of the Government Electronics Industry Association (GEIA) segment of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va.

Pentagon UAV buys should decrease from $3.5 billion in 2009 to $2.6 billion in 2019, GEIA analysts say. This represents a decade-long reduction of 34.6 percent–or a combined annual reduction rate of 3 percent.

From 1999 to 2009, U.S. military UAV procurement grew from $500 million to $3.5 billion–a seven-fold increase that represented an average combined annual growth rate of 21 percent during this period of staggering growth.

Dominating U.S. military UAV procurement in 2009 will be the Global Hawk high-altitude, high-endurance UAV, and the Predator reconnaissance and attack UAV. By 2019, Global Hawk will still be a mainstay of the Pentagon’s UAV purchase plan, to be joined by the Navy’s road Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System, better-known as BAMS.

Other important military UAV programs by 2019 include the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS-N), the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), the Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (TUAV), and Predator, GEIA analysts say.

UAVs are not the only area of U.S. military aviation where spending is expected to decrease over the next decade.

DOD will cut overall spending for aircraft acquisition and research over the next decade from $56 billion this year to $42 billion in 2019, GEIA analysts say.

This would represent a decade-long reduction in spending for aircraft structures, avionics, engines, sensors, and other electronics by one-third, according to GEIA analysts. Among the reasons for such a steep decline in military aircraft spending is the expected phaseout or reduction in defense supplemental spending, which funds ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Projected declines in military aircraft spending parallel overall anticipated reduced or flat spending for U.S. defense in procurement and RDT&E, GEIA analysts say. Over the next decade, military procurement spending is expected to increase only slightly from $101.15 billion to $102.53 billion.

The procurement account is for new ships, aircraft, and combat vehicles, and electronic equipment–as well as for repair and upgrades, which U.S. forces severely need after so many years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

GEIA predicts a decrease in the overall defense RDT&E budget over the next decade from $78.1 billion to $55.54 billion in 2019. That means less for developing new weapons and technologies.

Overall, GEIA predicts the entire defense budget might have an insignificant increase over the next 10 years. The organization’s latest figures have the DOD budget increasing from $491 billion to $534 billion between 2009 and 2019.

Among the reasons for projected stagnant or decreased spending for military procurement and RDT&E are expected hefty increases in military operations and maintenance spending, and for spending to support expected increases in Army and Marine Corps personnel.

GEIA predicts the operations and maintenance account will increase from $167.92 billion to $229.1 billion over the next 10 years. That’s where the fuel costs are, as well as food, clothing, and related expenses.

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