​Unmanned Systems and Robotics in the FY2019 Defense Budget

For Fiscal Year 2019 (FY2019), President Donald J. Trump has requested $686 billion to fund the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). This is an increase of approximately $74 billion from FY2018 and will support the current  national security and defense strategies. Unmanned systems and robotics are key technology areas that enable the United States to counter the range of evolving threats posed on the modern battlefield. A comprehensive review of the budget documents for each service/department/agency in the DoD has been completed to identify all programs that support operations of unmanned systems. Through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress reviews the President’s Budget and makes changes relative to the initial funding requests. This research will provide insight into the requested funding for both procurement and research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) of unmanned systems and robotics.

It is estimated that the requested funding for unmanned systems and associated technologies in FY2019 increased 28 percent from FY2018 to $9.6 billion across all agencies in the DoD (approximately 1.4% of the total DoD budget). This increase of over $2.1 billion represents all unclassified programs, including overseas contingency operations (OCO). Separating the totals by funding type shows an almost even distribution, with $4.9 billion supporting RDT&E and $4.7 billion for procurement. Two figures have been provided below that separate the budget for unmanned systems by domain and by service (the “Other” category in service represents DARPA, OSD, SOCOM, etc.). Each service shows growth from FY2018 to FY2019, with the Navy experiencing the largest increase at over $1 billion. Relative to domain of operation, air is receiving the largest funding support with the budget for unmanned aircraft reaching almost $7 billion in FY2019, followed by $1.5 billion for counter-unmanned systems (C-UxS), $1.3 billion for unmanned maritime vehicles and $0.7 billion for ground robotics (these domain totals are slightly higher than actual values as they include programs that fund multiple domains). From FY2018 to FY2019, the expected budget for C-UxS technologies almost doubles.
 

                  

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is passed each year to specify the funding provided to the DoD. This legislation uses the President’s Budget request as a baseline and then recommends funding changes as the congressional committees see fit. A total of seven programs related to unmanned systems were increased and 13 programs were decreased in the FY2019 House NDAA. The programs with the largest recommended increases are the RQ-4 Mods program, which seeks a $105 million increase to procure an additional EQ-4 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft that provides communications relays for the U.S. Air Force; the Army MQ-1 UAV program, with a recommended increase of $60 million to support the MQ-1C Gray Eagle Service Life Extension Program; and the Navy Undersea Warfare Applied Research program, with an increase of $20 million to foster academic partnerships. The programs seeing the largest decrease in funding are the Air Force MQ-9, which has a recommended cut of $149.9 million due to excess attrition aircraft removed from OCO funding, and the Navy Unmanned Carrier Aviation (UCA), which is decreased by $116.9 million due to insufficient air vehicle budget. Other topics addressed in the base bill language of the House NDAA include recommendations to allow the Army National Guard access to unmanned aircraft for military support to civilian authorities, as well as some briefing requests for more information on counter UAS technologies.

The Senate passed its version of the NDAA in June. It includes further recommended funding changes and directives. Significant increases were seen with the procurement of six additional MQ-9 UAS at $120 million to accelerate the Advanced Battle Management System and $100 million to fund the procurement of a fleet of Group 5 UAS for the Marine Corps. Suggested decreases to two programs related to unmanned systems were included as well – both were maritime vehicles. The committee recommends a delay of funding for the Barracuda Engineering Development Models (EDMs) (intended for use by the Navy for mine neutralization) until a Critical Design Review (CDR) drawing has been approved and there was accordingly a decrease of $26 million to this program. The committee also recognizes that $21.1 million of the $92.6 million to fund the Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle is “early-to-need” and therefore recommends decreasing that program’s funding to a total of $71.4 million in FY2019. Other directives of note from the Senate NDAA bill involve the Gremlins Air-Recoverable UAS, acoustic threat detection to counter UAS, LED development for aviation applications, and manned-unmanned teaming of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV).

Detailed information on both the President’s Budget request and both the House-passed and Senate-passed NDAA bills is available in the full report, which can be downloaded here.