Author:Machi, Vivienne
Position:SOCOM'S TOP 10

The U.S. military is broadly embracing commercial off-the shelf unmanned aerial vehicles that can carry intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads in small packages and at a lower cost. And Special Operations Command is no exception.

The command requested over $74 million in the fiscal year 2019 presidential budget to procure a wide variety of unmanned systems from both traditional industry partners and commercial vendors. That includes $10 million for 527 nano-sized vertical takeoff-and-landing UAVs. The desired systems vary in size, from tiny quadcoptors to medium-sized drones.

SOCOM included funding for 56 unmanned tethered aerial systems, in what is likely the first bulk purchase of tethered drones by any service, according to a recent report by the Center for the Study of the Drone, a research and education initiative at Bard College in New York. Other requests include six medium-sized long-range/long-endurance systems, 385 short-range/short-endurance and micro vertical takeoff-and-landing drones; two Aero Vironment RQ-20B Puma vehicles, and four Lockheed Martin Stalker unmanned systems, according to the report.

The diversity of systems included in SOCOM's budget request is worth noting, and underscores the command's interest in experimenting with new technology proliferating in me commercial sphere, said Dan Gettinger, the center's co-director.

He pointed to the recent ThunderDrone UAV experimerit, run by the command's innovation hub SOFWERX with assistance from the Air Force, where a range of systems were demonstrated and evaluated over several months for potential future use.

"That embodied the same idea, that you have to put some of these advancements in commercial and civilian UAS into military applications," he said.

SOCOM's growing interest in smaller, off-the-shelf drones for expeditionary ISR reflects a trend across the services, Gettinger noted. His organization found the number of systems the Defense Department requested to buy in 2019 to be three times that of the previous year, and about 12 times as many as in 2017.

Many of the systems are from traditional defense firms--such as the Puma or AeroVironment's RQ-11 Raven hand-launched UAV. But the amount of small- and...

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