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​An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft prepares to land at Creech AFB, Nev., after flying a training mission August 22, 2011. Air Force photo.

Spending on unmanned aerial vehicles is expected to “nearly double over the next decade,” according to the executive summary of a new study by the Teal Group. The study, which asserts that “enemy air defense is basically non-existent except in the crudest sense, small arms fire,” projects “it is quite possible that [UAVs] will become ubiquitous over the next decade as a standard means of reconnaissance for infantry squads.” It goes on to say, “there is a growing assortment ... primarily [of] missiles or loitering munitions that are based on UAV technology” that also could become an option for military use. The group projects more than $3.5 billion in US procurement dollars will be spent on UAVs in Fiscal 2015, compared to $1.5 billion in Fiscal 2014. The study notes that commercialization of UAVs by “hobby firms” will likely drive down the cost to the federal government. The 2014 National Defense Appropriations Authorization bill, includes language referencing a “medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle with flexible multi-intelligence sensor and communications relay capabilities,” which is currently being flight tested by the Air Force for use by US Africa Command forces. Personnel both in Congress and in the Air Force remain tight-lipped about the aircraft’s development and functionality, but the NDAA “encourages” the Air Force Secretary “to adopt a plan for these assets that would preserve their ability to be deployed if AFRICOM or any other combatant command” identifies a need.