Big Bucks for UAVs in '09

The new head of the Pentagon's unmanned systems acquisition oversight office says there is more than $500 million for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the fiscal 2008 war supplemental, which Congress has yet to act on.

Dyke Weatherington, who was named Feb. 4 as deputy director for Unmanned Warfare in the Office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), says the money for UAS is in the yet-to-be-appropriated balance of the Bush administration's $189.3 billion FY '08 request to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress has appropriated $86.8 billion, or 46 percent, of the request, but the rest has been held up in a dispute with the White House over Iraq strategy.

The Defense Department has not specified how much it will seek for the FY '09 supplemental, although it has listed a $70 billion placeholder amount in its budget request.

Weatherington declined to comment on how much would be sought for UAS in the '09 supplemental, other than to say "there is not insignificant dollars in that also."

Speaking to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Weatherington said he had misgivings about a centralized organization for all Defense Department unmanned systems.

"Certainly we need leadership and a plan to move ahead," he said, "but I'm a little nervous about saying I'm going to nominate somebody as king and they're going to run everything because they know exactly what the warfighter needs. Every warfighter is different. Every COCOM is different. They all have unique capabilities. I think AT&L's job is to find where the intersections are."

A team of defense officials is looking into how the U.S. armed services can better coordinate theater-level operational command of UAS. Weatherington said the Joint Center of Excellence, working out of Creech Air Force Base, Nev., has been "working that real hard and I know the first iteration of that is due out soon."

Read more on this story, BAE's JLTV Concept and a Mea Culpa on the KC-X deal from our Aviation Week friends at Military.com

-- Christian

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