Pentagon budget cuts still leave room for robots

As I predicted a couple of weeks ago, the Obama administration is shaping up to be robot-friendly. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released yesterday his proposed cuts to a variety of military technology programs, and it looks like good news for unmanned systems.

While some high-profile programs like the F-22 Raptor are being scaled back, and the manned vehicles that are part of the Army's Future Combat Systems program are going to be re-bid, Gates specifically left funding for "robotic sensors" and unmanned vehicles like the Predator. He also suggested increasing the initial fleet of Littoral Combat Ships -- the LCS is designed to carry a number of mission modules to be deployed in the littoral area of the ocean (relatively shallow water, near shore, where most mines are deployed), and among those modules are AUV systems.

AUVSI has a nice summary of some of the FCS-related items:

The $2 billion will include "fielding and sustaining 50 Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicle orbits by FY '11 and maximizing their production," he said. "This capability, which has been in such high demand in both Iraq and Afghanistan, will now be permanently funded in the base budget [instead of in budget supplementals]. It will represent a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from over a year ago."

"We will retain and accelerate the initial increment of the program to spin out technology enhancements to all combat brigades," he said, apparently good news for iRobot's Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and Honeywell's Micro Air Vehicle, both part of FCS' first technology "spin-out" plan.

Of course these cuts are only at the proposal stage, and have to go through Congress (where there is a lot of support for some of the programs that were cut), so the outcome remains to be seen. The important thing, I think, is that Gates and the Obama Administration have demonstrated their support for unmanned and robotic systems.

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