Unmanned Systems in the 2015 HASC NDAA Markup
This week, Congressman Randy Forbes and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa introduced the Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) released subcommittee markup language of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15 NDAA). The proposed legislation contains provisions of particular interest for the future development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The language indicates strong HASC interest in unmanned systems technology as a strategic future capability, and a growing sense that the Department of Defense is not adequately maturing it under current acquisition strategy and budget.
Q1: What is potentially the most significant congressional recommendation related to unmanned systems?
Headed by either a member of the Senior Executive Service or general or flag officer, the DUSO director would report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, serving as the principal adviser and liaison on unmanned systems in the department and also liaison to the U.S. government interagency. This language is drawn from a key recommendation in the February 2014 CSIS report Sustaining the U.S. Lead in Unmanned Systems: Military and Homeland Considerations Through 2025 (p. 15). Responsible for the “coordination of all acquisition and research, development, technology, and engineering efforts relating to the development, experimentation of unmanned systems,” DUSO would ensure unmanned systems unity of effort across the Department of Defense. Headed by either a member of the Senior Executive Service or flag officer, the DUSO director would report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, serving as the principal adviser and liaison on unmanned systems in the department and also liaison to the U.S. government interagency. In this role, the DUSO director and office would be responsible for the policy and oversight of all matters related to unmanned systems, recommendations on new operational concepts to take full advantage of unmanned systems technology and existing platforms, and advocating for unmanned systems where most advantageous for cost imposition (for the United States) or cost imposing (on potential adversaries).
Q2: What is in the most notable provision contained in the HASC FY15 NDAA subcommittee markup?
The most notable provision is from the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces regarding the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS) program. Earlier this month, the Navy released the UCLASS draft request-for-proposal (RFP) to the four companies competing for the UCLASS contract (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.). While the RFP is not publicly available, it has been reported widely that the Navy elected for a non-stealthy intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and limited strike platform meant to operate in uncontested environments, similar to the current General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. Some outside critics have argued that the Navy should elect instead for a stealthy, long-range, penetrating ISR and strike platform (with internal payload) able to operate in future anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments.
In response to the draft RFP, the House Armed Services Committee on Seapower and Projection Forces inserted language, in Title II, Section II Limitation on Availability of Funds for Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (p. 4), that prohibited the authorization and appropriations of any funds in FY2015 towards a UCLASS contract until the Secretary of Defense certifies the UCLASS requirements in a report to Congress. The committee is concerned that the investment in a non-stealthy UCLASS platform delays or even precludes investment in a future stealthy, long-range penetrating platform. In Title II: Research, Development, Test and Evaluation: Items of Special Interest (p. 32-33), the committee iterates further concerns about the current acquisition strategy, specifically: “insufficient time and funding for contractors to mature their designs…the additional risks associated with the Navy’s decision to abandon the precision landing system developed and successfully tested during the Unmanned Carrier Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) efforts and the potential risk associated with NAVAIR developing the UCLASS Mission Control System internally.”
By prohibiting the authorization of UCLASS funds, the committee seeks to force the Navy’s hand while the RFP requirements are being finalized. The Navy can either leave the draft RFP as-is and hope the Secretary of Defense certifies those requirements, or it can elect to move forward instead with a stealthy, long-range penetrating platform.
Q3: What other UAS-related provisions are contained in the HASC FY15 NDAA markup?
Other unmanned systems provisions in the NDAA markup include encouragement for study of dual-mode tactical missiles; investigation of cargo UAS; a new requirement for an annual briefing on satisfaction of combatant command ISR requirements and strategy to meet shortfalls; approval for non-DOD entities to perform testing of unmanned systems integrating into the National Airspace System (NAS) by non-DOD entities; and energy efficiency initiatives related to UAS.
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces markup includes an Item of Special Interest provision (p. 22-23) directing the Secretary of Defense to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services on U.S. and allied missile programs utilizing dual-mode seeker technologies. Expressing concern with the capability to counter high-speed, erratically maneuvering targets, the provision requires the briefing to include assessments of the applicability of existing dual-mode missiles as well as an update of efforts to integrate dual-mode missiles technologies onto the MQ-9 Reaper. This provision is a not-so-subtle reference to the heavily-marketed European defense conglomerate MBDA-manufactured Brimstone dual-mode missile.
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces in Title X: General Provisions, Items of Special Interests (p. 28) further directs the Secretary of Defense to brief on any potential plans to implement the Lockheed Martin and Kaman K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter as a fielded program of record for the FY16 budget submission. In Section 10XX – Unmanned Aircraft Systems and National Airspace (p. 4), the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces also includes a proposal to allow the Secretary of Defense to enter into memorandums of understanding with non-DOD entities engaged in the ongoing Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned systems test-range program, allowing them access to non-regulatory special use airspace so long as that activity does not interfere with DOD operations. This last relates to the growing commercial potential of UAS and the FAA-led National Airspace System (NAS) integration roadmap.
Finally, the HASC Subcommittee on Readiness inserted language in Title III: Operations and Maintenance, Items of Special Interests (p. 192) that would require the Secretary of Defense to “review of the energy efficiency initiatives… of unmanned aerial vehicles to extend range and endurance and increase speed.” The review would also analyze the potential for autonomy to reduce energy and logistical demands.
Q4: What, if anything, is surprising or controversial about this proposed legislation?
First, there is almost no mention of unmanned ground and maritime surface and undersea systems, which are areas of significant promise and limited DOD investment to date. The HASC NDAA markup also notably does not seek to reopen long-simmering fights related to the decision to retire the manned U-2 in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk, or pending cuts to numbers of Air Force combat air patrols of medium-altitude long-endurance UAS (65 to 55, and potentially 45). However, as the full HASC begins markup, these issues may rise to the surface. We will continue to monitor both the House and Senate NDAA markup process for these and any further developments in unmanned systems.
Samuel J. Brannen is a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Rhys McCormick is a research assistant with the National Security Program on Industry and Resources (NSPIR) at CSIS.
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