The US Department of Defense has released its 'roadmap' for bringing new and ever-more-subjectively-terrifying robots to the battlefield.
The 'Unmanned Systems Roadmap' document actually addresses overall cuts to the budget for drones, down to $4.1 billion ($3.7 billion of which is for aircraft).
But the document still marks out several milestones which will see the US armed forces increasingly reliant on autonomous systems in the coming decades, until at least 2038.
They include new and improved unmanned aircraft, as well as new ground-based robots.
While drones in the air are more familiar, ground-based robots too "have proven their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan across a spectrum of mission areas" the report says.
Boeing has its hands in a lot of drone technology. In June, the company successfully completed a test flight of one of its drones that is meant to stay airborne for days,<a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57447147/boeing-successfully-tests-phantom-eye-a-long-flying-drone/"> according to CBS News</a>. Boeing, headed by CEO Jim McNerney, Jr., estimated that it took<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/24/boeing-results-idUSL1E8LO1V320121024"> home $80.5 billion in revenue</a> last year, according Reuters. <strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this slide incorrectly stated that a Boeing drone flew from Maryland to California. The drone actually flew around an Air Force base in California.
General Atomics, a defense contractor based in Southern California, is set to sell $197 million worth of drones to the United Arab Emirates, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/22/business/la-fi-predator-drone-sale-20130223">according to the Los Angeles Times</a>. If the deal goes through, it would be the first such sale to a non-NATO country. General Atomics, run by CEO J. Neal Blue, <a href="http://qz.com/60456/activist-investors-target-bigger-companies/">took home $652,129,000 in 2012</a>, according to Washington Technology,
Lockheed Martin <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/16/lockheed-martin-stalker-drone-stays-airborne-48-hours-via-lasers/">completed tests in July of a "Stalker"</a> drone that stays airborne for 48 hours, according to Endgadget. The<a href="http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/02/04/pbs-ombudsman-drones-program-wouldve-been-better-without-lockheed-martin-support/"> company came under fire</a> after sponsoring a documentary on PBS about drones. Lockheed Martin, headed by CEO Marillyn Hewson, took home <a href="http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/news/press-releases/2013/january/0124hq-earnings.html">$47.2 billion in 2012</a>.
Northrop Grumman is helping to expand the drone business to the Asia-Pacific region. Late last year, the company sold <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-24/south-korea-to-buy-1-2-billion-in-drones-under-u-s-plan.html">$1.2 billion worth of drones</a> to South Korea, according to Bloomberg. Northrop Grumman's profits <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/01/business/la-fi-northrop-earns-20120201">rose</a> 80 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. The company is headed by CEO Wes Bush.
AeroVironment is <a href="http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/18/pentagons-tiny-new-spy-drone-mimics-hummingbird/">developing</a> the "Hummingbird drone" for the Pentagon, according to Aol News. But don't let its cute name fool you; the device can hover and perch to watch your every move and aims to someday bolster surveillance capabilities in urban areas, <a href="http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20130228/BUSINESS08/302280059/Solyndra-critics-back-U-S-energy-lab-seeking-biofuel-from-germs">according to Delaware online</a>. Despite the scary yet innovative technology, AeroVironment, which is run by CEO Timothy Conver, is projecting its revenue to drop to <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2013/03/06/aerovironment-drone-makers-shares-hit-the-wall-on-q3-miss/">$230 million in the upcoming fiscal year</a>, according to Forbes.
Prox Dynamics AS
This Norway-based company, <a href="http://www.proxdynamics.com/about/">founded by Petter Muran</a> in December 2007, developed the Black Hornet Nano, a mini-handheld helicopter that helps soldiers survey an area swiftly by flying at <a href="http://www.gizmag.com/black-hornet-nano-uav/26118/">top speeds for up to 30 minutes</a>, according to Gizmag. The UK gave<a href="http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020283205_apeubritainhandheldhelicopter.html"> some soldiers the Black Hornet Nanos</a> to use in Afghanistan earlier this month, according to the Associated Press. The Hornet was part of a $31 million contract.
Denel Dynamics, which is part of South Africa's biggest maker of defense equipment, has seen its sales <a href="http://www.moneynews.com/Companies/Drone-Makers-Arab-Demand/2013/02/18/id/490847">boom 20 percent </a>in the last four years, according to Money News. Sello Ntsihlele, the company's executive manager for drone technology, called the current climate "the best time" for drones, because demand is increasing in the Middle East, East Asia and Africa. Denel Dyanmics Missiles <a href="http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=27077:denel-dynamics-missiles-earnings-up-for-2012&catid=7:Industry&Itemid=116">took home $68,228,037 </a>in 2012, which was down from 2011. Executives argued that Denel has historically posted losses because of onerous contracts.
This company is helping the Pentagon develop underwater drones to defend against ultra-quiet submarines, according to Money Morning. SAIC, who is run by Chairman John Jumper, took home <a href="http://investors.saic.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=193857&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1764779&highlight=">$2.87 billion in revenue</a> during the third quarter of last year, up 3 percent from the year before. (Pictured: An Iranian submarine)
Israeli Aerospace Industries
Israeli Aerospace Industries <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gY48uh_MTGsQz1lDhtj4a92ggOZw?docId=CNG.f93648e502555ea3e976efe113d96c98.1b1">pioneered the technology used for drones</a> in the 1970s, according to Agence France Presse. Tommy Silberring, the head of the company's drone division, said increased demand around the world is boosting the drone market, as more countries want to go to war without putting their soldiers at risk. The drone sector is poised to become an $11.3 billion industry over the next decade, according to the Teal Group.
The military's appetite for drones helped Textron's defense business score a<a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/mass-high-tech/2009/11/struggling-textron-finds-success-with-drone.html?page=all"> year-over-year revenue jump of $61 million</a>, according to Mass High Tech, even as the rest of its business struggled. The drones have been so successful that the company, run by CEO Ellen Lord, is developing technology for unmanned underwater vehicles like the one pictured, according to the AP. <strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this post misidentified the CEO of Textron Systems. Ellen Lord is the company's CEO.
General Dynamics is one of the major donors to the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus (unofficially known as the drone caucus), <a href="http://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/jul/05/drone-makers-friends-washington/">according to KPBS</a>. Yes, that really does exist. The company, run by CEO Jay Johnson, reported a $2 billion loss in January, citing defense spending cuts, <a href="http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-23/business/36507001_1_federal-budget-cuts-general-dynamics-largest-federal-contractors">according to the Washington Post</a>.
Hong Kong-based DJI's Phantom, used by filmmakers to take steady aerial shots, is one of the most complete drones on the market, according to Quartz. DJI's North America CEO Colin Guinn, as well as others in the drone industry, are putting resources into products like the Phantom, betting that the <a href="http://qz.com/46893/the-private-drone-industry-is-like-apple-in-1984/">FAA will approve drones</a> for commercial use in 2015.
The document projects wide improvements to drones of all kinds, with the principal aim to increase their range and affordability.
Looking further ahead, the document also references 'nano'-style drones, very small (insect-sized) devices designed for land and air that could be in use as soon as 2018 (though more likely around 2035 for the smallest classes of drones), as well as "robotic wingmen" which could provide unmanned help to ground-based infantry:
The report also includes an intriguing roadmap for water-based drones, used for both mine-hunting and maritime security:
The report does not specifically address the morality of armed unmanned systems - particularly the the prospect of autonomous killer drones, against which a large-scale campaign was launched in 2013.
But it does lay out new strategies for more designing cheaper and more effective weapons specifically for drones, and hints at new strategies or arenas in which they could be used.
Other details in the report include the fact that the army currently has 10,964 drones in use (as of July 2013), most of which are Raven, Wasp and Puma-class aerial drones.