The Pentagon’s rapid development and deployment of unmanned systems over the last decade has resulted in too many which are incapable of interacting with other platforms or external systems, an outcome that must be changed going forward, the Pentagon said in a recently released report.

The Navy's unmanned X-47B demonstrator aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Navy’s unmanned X-47B demonstrator aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. Photo: U.S. Navy

“The urgent needs in theater and corresponding rapid acquisition approach during recent years have resulted in the current fleet of unmanned systems that generally do not interoperate with each other or with external systems,” the Pentagon said in a Dec. 30 report mapping out the future of unmanned systems.

The 168-page document, Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap: FY2013-2038, said placing a priority on interoperability in future fleets of unmanned air and other systems is going to be essential for building capability and reducing cost.

“The ability for manned and unmanned systems to share information will increase combat capability, enhance situational awareness, and improve flexibility of resources,” the report said. “Interoperability will improve the ability for unmanned systems to operate in synergy in the execution of assigned tasks.”

The report said new rules in place will require interoperability going forward, and that the Pentagon has begun to address the challenge, in part through the development of a common ground control system for operating unmanned aerial systems.

The Pentagon is also developing standard information exchange requirements (IERs) to foster interoperability and to move the services away from developing products based on specific needs, the report said.

“DoD unmanned systems have historically been developed for service-specific needs driven by the rapid fielding timelines in support of immediate operational requirements,” the report said. “While fielding these systems rapidly has been valuable, fully stable EIRs have often been, of necessity, sacrificed to battlefield urgency, and fielded systems can generally demonstrate only limited interoperability with other manned and unmanned platforms across the services.”

The report said the Pentagon will require the employment of open architecture solutions and business models, including non-proprietary interfaces and government control of data rights.

“DoD is adopting and exploiting open system design principles and architectures to increase competition, foster reuse across systems, and increase interoperability,” the document said. “This new acquisition model requires access to multi-vendor solutions to enable rapid insertion of new technologies to counter emerging threats, avoid technology obsolescence, and decrease time to field new capabilities.”