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Force structure concerns loom over US Army's unmanned programmes

Force structure is just as much, if not more of a constraint on the US Army's unmanned systems than budget woes, top service officials say.

"The growth of UAS thus far has all been additive to army aviation, which means it came at the expense of other pieces of the army," says Lt Col James J. Cutting, unmanned aerial systems director at the army headquarters aviation directorate. "The appetite from the rest of the army is completely gone for growing more UAS. Even though the demand is rising. We have to figure out way to get the same capability out of the same or a smaller number of people."

Under such conditions - and with the army expected to soon be required to bring the number of troops down from the current 547,400 in the active component - Moving from a manned platform to an unmanned one has to be considered carefully, says Glenn Rizzi, training and doctrine capability manager and senior advisor for Army unmanned aircraft systems, who also says he does not see a completely unmanned future army.

"We're not going to transition to unmanned because we think it's cool," Rizzi says t the Association for Unmanned Vechicle Systems International's (AUVSI) 2011 Unmanned Systems Program Review 2 February in Washington DC. "It has to be an improved capability."

Rizzi wants future concepts for the US Army to be more about results than the platforms that get them, such as an "integrated sensor coverage area" with manned and unmanned air, ground, maritime and space assets working together to compile a holistic intelligence picture.

For now, the service must work out how to best distribute to the people it does have to keep the ever-increasing demand for intelligence information satisfied. Use of the word "insatiable" is apt, Cutting says. "It's not just a want, it's a need," he says. "And nothing comes without a price in terms of force structure, time and money."

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