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The Army prioritizes drones in its underfunded wishlist

What are the desires of Army officials that are insufficient to be included in their official 2025 budget proposal? Defense One Friday received the service’s “unfunded priorities” list, which includes aerial drones, counter-drone technology, and ground robotics for smaller troops.

Service leaders have consistently expressed their intention to provide units with additional experimental technology for testing. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the list includes a budget of $10 million for companies to acquire small drones and $25 million for infantry brigade combat teams to acquire commercially available drones.

General Randy George, the Army Chief of Staff, has placed a high value on obtaining commercial drones. This is evident from the decision to cancel the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and the subsequent revelation that the Army would gradually replace its current drone fleet with commercial ones.

During a recent training exercise, George expressed that soldiers were enthusiastic about incorporating more tiny drones into their groups.

The majority of the complaints pertaining to drones were on the question of immediate accessibility. During an interview with Defense One for the State of Defense, George expressed his thoughts. According to him, the training for some drones may be completed within a single day.

According to George, robots will be seen inside the formation, both on the ground and in the air.

The Army has the capability to get commercial drones from the Blue UAS list, which comprises drones that have undergone rigorous evaluation for government use. According to a forecast by the Financial Times for 2021, the cost of these drones may be eight to 14 times higher compared to those offered by Chinese enterprises.

According to George, the Army anticipates that the rise in demand will result in a reduction in costs. During the State of Defense event, the general expressed the belief that as the demand for these items increases and their production intensifies, prices will subsequently decrease.

The Army aims to provide more funds to its program, known as the Low Altitude Stalking and Strike Ordnance (LASSO) program, which involves deploying unidirectional assault drones to infantry units. The list comprises a sum of $10 million allocated for LASSO.

During an interview with Defense One at AUSA, Doug Bush, the assistant Army secretary for procurement, said that the Army had placed an order for over 100 Switchblade 600s to be used for testing purposes as part of the LASSO program. The fiscal year 2025 Army budget proposal comprises a solicitation for LASSO program drones valued at $120 million.

The list of underfunded projects includes $26.5 million allocated for short-range reconnaissance and $34 million allocated for medium-range reconnaissance initiatives. In January, Skydio, a drone manufacturer, began the last round of testing inside the Army’s Short Range Reconnaissance program.

The budget allocation consists of $449 million for enhancing counter-drone capabilities to safeguard military troops and $292 million for bolstering short- to long-range air defense in response to the recurring drone assaults on U.S. forces in the Middle East and the escalating drone warfare in Ukraine.

Interceptors account for 50% of the counter-drone capabilities, with a total value of $185 million. The interceptors in question are perhaps Raytheon’s Coyote drone interceptors, which have garnered commendation from the Army for their efficacy in neutralizing the drones that often target military locations in the Middle East.

The fiscal year 2025 basic budget allocates $117 million for the procurement of Coyote interceptors, with an estimated unit cost of $125,000.

The force protection category of the list has further counter-drone parts, one of which involves a substantial investment of $4.5 million in research and development for Anduril’s Roadrunner-M drone interceptor. Additionally, it allocates $91 million for the development of anti-air Stinger missiles and $10 million for a program known as the “Family of Counter-sUAS System,” or FoCUS, which has not been previously disclosed.

Additionally, the list encompasses an additional $84 million allocated for the Joint Anti-Small Unmanned Systems University. This institution is dedicated to instructing military personnel on the use of hand-held anti-drone jammers and many other counter-drone weapons.

The list also advanced its efforts to incorporate further robots into Army formations, allocating $55.5 million for the integration of human-machine technology. This category included the use of robotic vehicles equipped with firearms to initiate first contact with enemy troops. A distinct classification seeks funding of $69.5 million for the purpose of conducting experiments on the integration of humans and machines inside the Next Generation Combat Vehicle program.

In March, a platoon of troops specializing in Army robotics and autonomous systems, belonging to the 82nd Airborne Division, conducted a demonstration at the Army’s Fort Irwin National Training Center. In the demonstration, an attack on a town under enemy control used a combination of robots and drones.

The Silent Tactical Energy Dismount (STEED), a robot used for equipment transportation and casualty evacuation, requires a distinct allocation of $16 million.

The proposed budget includes a $4 million allocation for “proliferated low earth orbit” under the tactical network category in response to the growing use of Starlink and other low earth satellite orbit systems in Army units.

Additional items on the list consist of $98 million allocated for Precision Strike Missiles (PRSM) and $138 million designated for Patriot Advanced Capability Three (PAC-3) missiles.

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