As unmanned systems technologies mature, modern armies are realizing that the integration of autonomous systems could gain considerable saving over time, particularly important are the saving in personnel costs, as the military is finding it harder to find and maintain quality personnel. According to Gene Fraser, vice president and deputy, Strike and Surveillance Systems Division, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, operational tempo has increased the pressure on personnel with average cost per person almost doubled, compared to a decade ago. “The use of autonomous unmanned systems, integrated into the operational network could compensate for the costs and shortage of high quality personnel, while improving mission capability.” Fraser noted, for example, the manned-unmanned teaming of P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft and unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance BAMS, reduced the number of aerial platforms required by the Navy, from 229 manned P-8s to 176 platforms – 108 plus 68 unmanned BAMS Global Hawks. The reduction in platforms, will also contribute to lower life cycle cost over 20 years, from 70 billion to 40 billion. However the total flight hours to be flown will increase from 98,000 to 101,000.

Fraser’s team conducted a simulation of an operational mission to thwart piracy in the Western Indian Ocean. “To secure this area, the naval task force requires numerous surface vessels, helicopters and aircraft to cover a 480,000 square nautical miles of sea. A fleet of 20 surface vessels, with associated air assets are participating in the mission to search, identify and track potential threats. These vessels are carrying 20 SH-60 helicopters, with a full squadron of P-3, all manned by 6,900 sailors and airmen, the task force can cover merely 20% of the entire area at an operational cost of $7.2 million per day (of which 20% are personnel.) Employing a single detachment of BAMS UAVs, a future force will be able to cover 100% of the area with only 7 vessels, each carrying two FireScout UAVs and one SH-60, at an operational costs of $1.7 million per day (of which about 25% are personnel costs.) “We have the resident expertise to build common mission planning and operating architectures to link and network multiple UAS, air, land and sea” said Fraser.

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