Joint Interoperability - The First Casualty of the Drone Takeover

  • Commander Michael R. Dolbec

Over the past three decades, the Department of Defense (DOD) has developed and fielded a fleet of unmanned drones without a Joint coordinated strategy. Contrary to service interoperability encouraged by the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the military deferred unifying drone programs and development in 1988. This has resulted in years of wasteful duplication and a drone fleet in which interoperability is an afterthought. Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan created significant demand for drone capabilities, and nearly unconstrained military budgets fueled service-specific drone development. Drones are the largest growth market in the aerospace industry, and the DOD is predicted to spend $93 billion on them in the next decade. Attempting to coordinate service-specific drone development, the DOD has published many unmanned vehicle roadmaps and established several advisory task forces. However, without a truly Joint strategy to consolidate efforts and resources, as well as an organization with the authority to enforce it, little change has occurred. The wasted effort and resources of service-specific drone capability development weakens the U.S. military and is not sustainable in a fiscally constrained environment.