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Highlights from the Unmanned Systems Defense 2015 (Air Day)

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USAF Lt. General and ISR Chief Bob Otto

Among the comments and observations made on Wednesday's "Air Day" element of AUVSI's Defense 2016 event:
  • Ed Wolski, Deputy Director, Air Warfare, within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acqusition, Technology, and Logistics noted that planned DoD investment in medium and large UAS (Groups 3-5) will be $2.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) down about 10% from $3.2 billion in FY15.
  • Lt. General Michael Williamson, Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, identified engine reliability as the biggest problem facing Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), noting that the Service hoped to draw upon developments planned under the PEO Aviation-led Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP).
  • Lt. General Robert "Bob" Otto, USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for ISR outlined the Service's consideration of staffing changes to help the USAF manage in a budget-constrained environment.  One approach is to allow a single pilot to fly MQ-9 REAPER missions, rather than having a separate pilot and sensor operator.  This move alone, he noted, could free up a thousand billets.  General Otto also noted that DoD has been able to reduce the stress on the USAF -- "the smallest that it has been since it was founded in 1947" by having the Army provide 16 aircraft Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) and contractors provide an additional ten.
  • John Coglianese, Director, Unmanned Aerial Systems at the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), challenged industry to provide SOCOM with "holistic solutions" to his challenges.  He stressed the urgency of his need for solutions, noting that "the Taliban's POM cycle is a lot shorter than mine" and urged industry to cease callings its modular offerings "plug-and-play," as nothing is really plug-and-play.  For Small UAS, SOCOM is in "retrofit" mode, looking for modifications that "improve SWaP and provide more INTs."  He expressed doubt on the efficacy of fuel cells for SUAS propulsion.  Beyond SUAS, Coglianese stressed the need for greater engine reliability and more efficient PED (processing, exploitation, and dissemination).
  • George Duchak, the Director of the Pentagon's new Defense Innovation Unit - Experimental (DIUx), outlined the mission of this new organization, founded to harness Silicon Valley expertise in support of the Department of Defense.  He noted that in the first two months of operations, DIUx has served as "matchmaker" between industry and DoD Services and Agencies, but that it is unclear whether DoD is leveraging the industry offerings.  "Just about everyone we engage with we do a follow-up to U.S. Government Agencies.  We are short on metrics on results."
  • John Goolgansian, Director, Source/Content Portfolio Manager at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) underscored the interest of the NGA in leveraging high resolution geospatial/ISR imagery from manned and unmanned platforms both endo- and exo-atmospheric.  He stressed that the U.S. advantage over current and potential adversaries will be in persistance and "multiple views"  (a variety of sensor inputs beyond EO/IR, to include hyperspectral).
  • USMC Colonel Eldon Metzger, Program Manager, Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263), indicated that his office is procuring the Instant Eye Nano and the SkyRanger VTOL and has them in inventory.  Colonel Metzger implored vendors to approach the UAS program primes with their subsystem offerings, as "have you gone to the prime?" is often his first question. 
  • Pat Buckley, Deputy PEO Unmanned Aviation, PEO Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, observed that the BAMS-D (demonstrator) is "now into the sixth year of a six-month demonstration." He indicated that the Navy wants to put the RQ-20 PUMA UAS on a destroyer as well as coastal patrol ships but stressed that electromagnetic interference, saltwater environmental conditions, and airspace access are tough challenges to address. 
  • USAF Colonel William Leister, Senior Materiel Leader, Medium UAS, indicated that the USAF is divesting the MQ-1 PREDATOR and is focused on fielding advanced (Block 5) versions of the MQ-9 REAPER.  The USAF has 202 MQ-9s in inventory, including seven of the new Block 5 units (which feature a new advanced cockpit and other upgrades).  A Block 5 Operational Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) event is coming up in 2016 and the USAF intends to field a total of 300 MQ-9s.
  • Army Colonel Courtney Cote, Project Manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, U.S. Army, said that his office is poised to move out on the Short Range Micro (SRM) program in 2017, subject to funding.  He stressed, further, that the program would likely be a standard system development, as he knows of no off-the-shelf systems that meet the SRM requirement.