The Army’s G-8 deputy chief of staff told the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference in Washington this morning that military leaders are trying to move forward with new and improved drone technology despite the budget crunch hitting the Pentagon.
“Unmanned systems, both air and ground, have really come to life and developed at a pace many folks would have thought unimaginable in the late ’90s,” Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III said to open the world’s largest drone expo.
The even bigger challenge, he said, is to leverage all that they’ve learned so far from testing and use in combat to develop a “road map” for future unmanned systems reliance.
Barclay was careful about referring to “autonomous” systems, noting “that’s supervised autonomy.”
The Army of the future, he said, will rely on an “affordable, modernized force that is both manned and unmanned.”
“We’re very cautious about going into this and that’s where industry is going to have to help us in managing those costs,” he added.
Barclay cautioned that the government shouldn’t be too quick to sell off radio frequencies until it’s known how much bandwidth will be needed to operate the unmanned programs of the future.
“I’m not sure we’ve taken that and took a long look forward,” he said. “Everyone is reaching out, trying to get some sort of a claim on bandwidth.”
Another challenge is getting federal and state governments to “allow us to operate within the U.S. as we train and use these.”
“There is the concern out there that you will lose control and what are the cause and effect on the local population of doing that,” Barclay said.
That includes testing both in the air and on roads. The Army is eyeing increased dependence on autonomous vehicles to move equipment, and Barclay said that technology could one day translate to the commercial sector with unmanned trucks moving cargo.
He acknowledged that budget crunching will affect where the department wants to go with drone technology.
“We are in some tough times now with the Department of Defense …that plays into every decision we make,” said Barclay. Investments in technology have “got to bring more than additional burdens and costs to us.”
Code Pink protester Alli McCracken interrupted Barclay’s speech, unfurling a “stop killer drones” banner and demanding the general “talk about the innocent people who have been killed by the drones.” She was led out by convention center security.