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Army "Future": Fewer Drones

The other day, Inside Defense broke the news that the Army was shaving billions off of its massive modernization program, Future Combat Systems. Now, we're starting to get some details. Turns out the drones are the ones getting the axe.shadow040922A_0MO6Iabb.jpgFCS originally envisioned four types and sizes of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, buzzing over soldiers' heads. The littlest ones would join platoons. Slightly bigger drones would be assigned to companies. Batallion commanders would supervise an even larger UAV. And the biggest of 'em all -- an armed, robotic helicopter -- would work for the brigade.Those four classes of UAVs are now being trimmed down to two; just the tiniest and the most gargantuan drones will remain. There will still be other robotic planes in the Army's arsenal -- the hand-held Ravens, the Shadows, and the big, high-flying, bad-ass Warriors.But the move is the latest in a series of efforts to scale down the once-grandiose FCS vision. First to go were the all-electric, laser-firing, next-gen fighting vehicles. Then, the requirement that those vehicles fit into a C-130 transport plane. And after that, the high-tech uniforms that were supposed to electronically tie the grunts to the larger Army. With the vehicles' designs still very much in flux -- and with the network connecting all of those drones and vehicles together still facing major roadblocks -- who knows what will be left, when FCS finally deploys?UPDATE 3:55 AM: Speaking of those little Raven drones, it looks like the Marines will start using 'em, too. Inside Defense says that the Corps has given up on its own mini-UAV, the Dragon Eye. During the Iraq invasion, Marines found the drone "too flimsy," and didn't stay in the air nearly long enough. Some fixes were made. But the things still had a nasty habit of "break[ing] apart upon repeated landings." So it's out with the Dragon Eyes. In with the sturdier Ravens.

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