The Army will fall well short of a congressional goal that one-third of U.S. military ground combat vehicles be unmanned by 2015, according to a service official.

The Army has found unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) to be useful for certain missions, such as neutralizing roadside bombs, Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu said April 21. But the one-third target, set by Congress in 2000, was “pretty aggressive” and proved too expensive and technically difficult to achieve, she said. For instance, many Army ground vehicles have operated in Afghanistan’s mountains or on Iraq’s sandy terrain, both of which are hard for UGVs to navigate.

TALON Robot Photo: QinetiQ
Photo: QinetiQ

“I think what we need to do is scope to a specific mission space” in which an unmanned vehicle can be used, said Shyu, who spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “We have to be careful to look at the specific application before we increase something so generically.”

Turning to acquisition reform, Shyu said the Department of Defense has an ongoing dialogue with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on legislation he is drafting to speed up weapon system development. She said Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall provided feedback to Thornberry earlier this week on “some of the things we agree with and some of the things we didn’t agree with.”

Changes that would help the acquisition process include more stable budgets, more realistic requirements and a reduction in the number of documents and briefings that program managers must provide, according to Shyu. She said that research, development and acquisition accounts for 18 percent of the Army’s fiscal 2016 budget request, down from 23 percent a few years ago. Such constraints have forced the Army to make unwanted cuts, such as canceling the manned Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) last year.

“Even though big Army wanted the system, [the Army] couldn’t afford it,” she said.