> our title:

CRS Overview of US Unmanned Aerial Systems

> original title:

U.S. Unmanned Aerial Systems

(Source: Congressional Research Service; dated Jan. 3, web-posted Jan. 12, 2012)

Unmanned aerial systems comprise a rapidly growing portion of the military budget, and have been a long-term interest of Congress. At times, Congress has encouraged the development of such systems; in other instances, it has attempted to rein in or better organize the Department of Defense’s efforts.

Unmanned aircraft are commonly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and when combined with ground control stations and data links, form UAS, or unmanned aerial systems.

The use of UAS in conflicts such as Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and humanitarian relief operations such as Haiti, revealed the advantages and disadvantages provided by unmanned aircraft. Long considered experimental in military operations, UAS are now making national headlines as they are used in ways normally reserved for manned aircraft.

Conventional wisdom states that UAS offer two main advantages over manned aircraft: they are considered more cost-effective, and they minimize the risk to a pilot’s life. For these reasons and others, DOD’s unmanned aircraft inventory increased more than 40-fold from 2002 to 2010.

UAVs range from the size of an insect to that of a commercial airliner. DOD currently possesses five UAVs in large numbers: the Air Force’s Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk, and the Army’s Hunter and Shadow.

Other key UAV developmental efforts include the Air Force’s RQ-170 Sentinel, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS), MQ-8 Fire Scout, and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV, and the Marine Corps’s Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System.

In the past, tension existed between the services’ efforts to acquire UAS and congressional initiatives to encourage a consolidated DOD approach. Some observers argue that the result has been a less than stellar track record for UAS programs. However, reflecting the growing awareness and support in Congress and the Department of Defense for UAS, investments in unmanned aerial vehicles have been increasing every year. DOD spending on UAS has increased from $284 million in FY2000 to $3.3 billion in FY2010.

Congressional considerations include the proper pace, scope, and management of DOD UAS procurement; appropriate investment priorities for UAS versus manned aircraft; UAS future roles and applications; legal issues arising from the use of UAS; issues of operational control and data management; personnel issues; industrial base issues; and technology proliferation.

Click here for the full report (55 pages in PDF format) hosted on the State dept. website, as CRS has no public website.