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More drones for the military

The Department of Defense has offered its new 30-year aviation plan that outlines the aircraft the military intends to use in a variety of military situations. One of the most interesting things in the report is that the Pentagon expects to significantly increase the number of drones in the military fleets.
The report shows that as of fiscal year 2013 the military has 445 drones including versions of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-9 Reaper, and MQ-1 Predator drones. By fiscal 2022, the military will have 645 drone or unmanned aircraft in its fleet. The Army also wants to purchase 164 Gray Eagle drones to provide direct support to ground forces according to Pentagon. That purchase is interesting because the USAF was forced to retire multiple A-10 ground support fighters, which will be replaced with the multirole F-35 Lightning II fighter.
The aviation plan mentions the Army will "continue to sustain [the MQ-1C Gray Eagle] and make incremental improvements to the airframe, payloads, ground control stations and other enablers to keep the Gray Eagle program of record relevant." 
The document also notes that the Air Force was forced to divest 18 RQ-4 Block 30 aircraft and retain the U-2 due to budget constraints.
The military is placing an ever-increasing focus on unmanned drone aircraft in the new smaller and leaner fighting force the Pentagon wants. Drones are important because they don't put pilots in harm's way, and they can loiter over areas for an extended period. Drones are also typically much cheaper to develop and deploy than manned aircraft. 
“The military departments adjusted their plans to comply with a constrained top line by procuring fewer aircraft than desired,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wrote in a letter to the leaders of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on April 4.
Between 2013 and 2022, the DOD intends to spend about $770 million on aviation assets alone. That price includes money spent for fighter jets, attack helicopters, long-range bombers, airlift aircraft, cargo, and several other aircraft types. The 30-year plan also shows that special operations will also be using an increasing number of drones. 

Sources: Bloomberg, Scribd

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By mellomonk on 4/14/2012 11:09:53 AM , Rating: 3
Anyway, has a drone managed to safely land on a heaving aircraft carrier deck in a storm, yet?

In 2013 the Northrop X-47B will begin carrier qualification. This is a development design that will eventually lead to a future carrier deployed UCAV. This is not a piloted drone like the Predator/Reaper, but rather an autonomous drone like the RQ-4. It should always be able to catch the wire regardless of deck pitching, weather, darkness, what have you. And if under the worst conditions it cannot, nobody will shed a tear.

The first generation of unmanned combat air vehicles will be bombers and strike aircraft, but piloted air superiority designs are on the drawing boards so to speak and are expected to be deployed in the next fighter generation. No G limits, better sensor/situational awareness, extended range, and no loss of life from mistakes.

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