U.S. special operations forces will likely continue to purchase small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at least at the current rate, even as the Army and Marine Corps have slowed the number of buys as the United States withdrawals from conflicts abroad, the Pentagon’s top civilian official for special operations said Tuesday.

Raven is among the small UAVs deployed by special operations. Photo: AeroVironment
Raven is among the small UAVs deployed by special operations. Photo: AeroVironment

“I imagine the numbers to remain where they are or increase slightly,” Michael Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, told Defense Daily on the sidelines of a special forces conference hosted by the National Defense Industries Association.

Lumpkin, who is also the acting under secretary of defense for policy, said he believes the special operations community could seek UAS in even larger numbers if industry continues to advance the technology and offers new capabilities to meet evolving requirements.

“If (UAS) received technology innovations and significant improvements I think you can see the numbers going up significantly,” he said. Lumpkin declined to detail what type of advances the special operations forces would like to see.

“That would be something I would to work with industry and talk to them in particular because some of it’s classified,” he said.

Small UAS have proven useful to combat forces on the ground, allowing them to quickly launch the vehicles to carry out intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions, Pentagon officials have said. AeroVironment’s [AVAV] Raven, which has been a workhorse for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, is also supplied to Special Operations Command, along with other small UAVs.

The Pentagon plans to roll out its fiscal 2015 budget request in early March. In the fiscal 2014 budget request, there was a sharp drop–one third–in UAV spending from the previous year. Research and development as well as procurement funds were reduced by 34 percent in the fiscal 2014 spending request. That amounted to $1.4 billion for R&D accounts and $1.2 billion for procurement, officials said at the time.

Raven was notable among the small UAS that took a hit. The Pentagon bought more than 1,100 of the Raven systems in 2012 and an additional 234 in 2013, but those numbers dropped to zero in the fiscal 2014 spending request.