Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Can cutting drone money be a good idea? And is the Navy taking the lead in drones?

Cutting drone spending doesn’t strike me as wise. It does strike me as being additional evidence of the Pentagon’s being locked in the present ("readiness") instead of thinking about tomorrow ("preparedness"). The only possible argument I could see is that we have invested enough in current generation technologies, and should hold back on acquiring more ...

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Cutting drone spending doesn't strike me as wise. It does strike me as being additional evidence of the Pentagon's being locked in the present ("readiness") instead of thinking about tomorrow ("preparedness").

The only possible argument I could see is that we have invested enough in current generation technologies, and should hold back on acquiring more while the field develops. That would be more plausible if acquisition of the old manned systems also were being stopped.

As I understand it, drone R&D will start to decline while acquisition increases. One can only hope that means snazzy new super-fast long-range stealthy drones are being purchased, as well as other innovative types. As an article by Matthew Hipple in the February issue of Proceedings puts it, "Short-term drone development should concentrate on areas where autonomy is easiest and expendable platforms are most useful, giving drones a space for more successful and immediate growth."

Cutting drone spending doesn’t strike me as wise. It does strike me as being additional evidence of the Pentagon’s being locked in the present ("readiness") instead of thinking about tomorrow ("preparedness").

The only possible argument I could see is that we have invested enough in current generation technologies, and should hold back on acquiring more while the field develops. That would be more plausible if acquisition of the old manned systems also were being stopped.

As I understand it, drone R&D will start to decline while acquisition increases. One can only hope that means snazzy new super-fast long-range stealthy drones are being purchased, as well as other innovative types. As an article by Matthew Hipple in the February issue of Proceedings puts it, "Short-term drone development should concentrate on areas where autonomy is easiest and expendable platforms are most useful, giving drones a space for more successful and immediate growth."

In another article in the same issue, retired Navy Capt. Edward Lundquist makes a good argument that the next big surge in jointness should be in ensuring that our drones in the air, on land, and under water can communicate with each other. He quotes Eric Pouliquen of the "future solutions" branch at NATO’s transformation office in Norfolk, Virginia as saying that, "It would not make sense that we develop a set of standards for something that swims that is completely different from a vehicle that is on land, for example."

I get the sense that the regular Navy is getting back into the game, after a couple of decades of taking a back seat to the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operators.

(One qualm: Why isn’t NATO’s transformation office in Silicon Valley? I mean, my Quaker ancestors landed not far from Norfolk, but they had the sense to head West, and southeast Virginia today is one of the most backward-looking parts of the country, and indeed is thousands of miles from the nation’s major technology centers.)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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