DoD is already testing unmanned BlackHawk helicopters. But there is more. The Defense Department is reassessing its view of unmanned aerial vehicles – a key component of modern combat operations – and deciding what the military needs from UAVs beyond their traditional use as a platform to gather intelligence and fire weapons. The next-generation UAVs will need to take on additional duties including cargo transport, refueling and possible medical applications, and they will need to be interoperable with different platforms, users and military services, DOD officials said at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement summit on UAVs the week of April 26 in Vienna, Va. “UAVs are 99 percent [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] today. In the future, they need to be multipurpose – ISR and [target acquisition], aerial network layer, attack capabilities, sustainment and cargo,” said the deputy director at the Army Unmanned Aerial Systems Center of Excellence. The military should concentrate on developing modular, plug-and-play aircraft built on standardized interfaces – one aircraft for multiple missions, similar frames for one platform, according to the director of the Air Force Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force. “We need to define interoperable architecture. And right now we’re working with [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] to define what that interface will look like,” the director said. He added that capabilities for “sense-and-avoid” aircraft detection technology, interoperable command and control, multi-access controls and enhanced human-system interfaces are among the most important short-term enablers in developing next-generation UAVs.

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