Unmanned Aircraft Systems / By COL Courtney P. Cote: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), although used earlier, gained their operational birth in the Balkans and then UAS grew up during the Global War on Terrorism. Today UAS and the situational awareness they provide continue to experience an insatiable demand in support of current operations around the globe. Perhaps a fair comparison to what the UAS brings to current Army operations is what the helicopter brought to air mobility operations in Vietnam. In order to posture the Army’s UAS fleet for Force 2025 and Beyond it must establish a firm foundation with the current systems, while continuing to evolve required future UAS capabilities. Each of the current UAS programs is executing their equipment fieldings, while simultaneously forecasting their future programs to meet evolving requirements focused on Force 2025 and Beyond.
Apache Block III and Gray Eagle at Dugway Proving Ground, UT / PM UAS COURTESY PHOTOS
The Gray Eagle program is currently fielding the ninth of fifteen Gray Eagle companies. In July of 2015 the Army updated the Gray Eagle requirement creating the Echelon Above Division (EAD), comprised of the three Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and one U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) Gray Eagle companies. The updated requirement not only addresses EAD, but also includes an extended range Gray Eagle referred to as the Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) which will reside in the EAD formations. In response to the EAD requirement, the 2015 fielding schedule was accelerated to accommodate adding the first of three total Gray Eagle companies for the INSCOM strategic reconnaissance mission. In 2016 the program will return to normalcy, fielding two companies per year.
The Ground Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) system is complementary to the Gray Eagle, as it enables the Gray Eagle to operate in the national airspace, by providing the UAS operator situational awareness to “see and avoid” other air traffic. GBSAA is programmed for those locations where the Gray Eagle must transition from an airfield to restricted airspace. Use of the GBSAA system also eliminates the need for chase aircraft or ground observers. Currently the system is emplaced at Fort Hood and is in various stages of installation at Fort Riley, Fort Bragg, Fort Campbell, and Fort Stewart with plans for installation at Fort Wainwright.
RQ-7B Shadow launching
The structure of the Army’s combat aviation brigade (CAB) continues to evolve in order to increase Aviation’s operational flexibility and effectiveness. The addition of three platoons of Shadow RQ-7Bv2 Tactical UAS (twelve aircraft total), in the heavy attack reconnaissance squadrons (HARS) marks a deliberate move towards manned-unmanned teaming. 3/6 CAV Squadron, 1st Armored Division, located on Fort Bliss, Texas, was the first unit fielded in the new HARS force structure. The Shadow v2 also provides Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) organic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. The Shadow team is currently conducting New Equipment Training and fielding of the new Shadow v2 at a rate of 2-3 systems per month as they harvest and convert v1 to v2 systems. The v2 system provides secure data links in the form of Tactical Common Data Link, and increased endurance among other capabilities. Additionally, the Shadow team is pursuing a Block III engine and an improved sensor.
With an eye towards 2025 and Beyond the Tactical UAS Product Office is plotting the programmatic course forward in order to meet the emerging requirements for a Future Tactical UAS. This path includes the involvement and efforts of the Aviation Science and Technology community as they continue to shape their investments towards UAS propulsion, Future Tactical UAS, data links, networking and other enabling technologies for the future.
RQ-11B Raven with gimbaled payload
The UAS Project Office also supports UAS outside of Aviation formations. Small but mighty, the Small UAS (SUAS) family also continues to deliver capability while aligning to the Rucksack Portable UAS (RPUAS) requirement. The RPUAS alignment currently utilizes the PUMA to meet the Long Range Reconnaissance and Surveillance (LRRS) needs, the Raven to meet the Medium Range Mobile (MRM) and leaves the Short Range Micro (SRM) unfilled for the time being. However, the Small UAS team is putting into place the programmatic plan to pursue an SRM, repackage the systems according to the RPUAS requirement and reissue the systems according to the new basis of issue.
A major game changer for the SUAS is the Tactical Government Open Architecture (TOGA) controller. The TOGA is a common controller across all of the SUAS and is focused on the software/architecture of the controller and is hardware agnostic. The TOGA gives the government the ability to implement Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) SUAS much more readily, and has the capability to control unmanned ground vehicles as well as unattended ground sensors.
Another way that the UAS PO is supporting non-aviation formations is through the One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) which resides mainly in maneuver brigades but in other tactical formations as well. OSRVT enables the delivery of UAS Full Motion Video (FMV) down to the Tactical Edge and allows the OSRVT operator to operate at Level of Interoperability-3, or UAS sensor control. In support of future operations, OSRVT is working towards an on the move capability which will enable forces to gain and utilize full motion video (FMV) while maneuvering. Additionally, OSRVT is driving towards a more Soldier focused/dismounted approach that allows the Soldier to gain FMV on the Soldier Net Warrior ensemble.
Hunter UAS at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA
A major programmatic shift for the UAS PO to meet the demands of the Force 2025 and Beyond is the pursuit of a Universal Control Interface (UCI). In order to reach this objective the Army must recognize the control segment as the center of gravity and not the Unmanned Aircraft (UA). Through the development of a UCI and the corresponding training and development of agile, expert, and innovative UAS professionals, the Army has the potential to increase the versatility, scope, and depth of Soldier competence and establish a “Universal” construct that mans and equips units capable of employing and maintaining all Army UAS. Ultimately, moving towards a UCI builds in increased UAS employment agility with the capability to respond to dynamic and expanding mission demands. As a major enabler in the Force 2025 and Beyond, the UCI, like the TOGA, builds the bridge and facilitates interoperability between unmanned air and ground systems to connect a future autonomous battlespace.
Army UAS continue to evolve, not only in our current programs but also with emerging requirements, in order to meet future demands of the Force 2025 and Beyond, as well as remaining relevant in the future as defined within the Army Operating Concept. UAS programs and operations span from the strategic support at EAD with Gray Eagle and the Improved Gray Eagle, through the operational level with Divisional Gray Eagle formations. UAS also support down to the tactical level with the Shadow v2 systems in the BCTs and CABs and down to the tactical edge with the OSRVT and SUAS. At each echelon the UAS PO continues to deliver capability to the current force while also working as a member of the Aviation Enterprise to define and shape UAS to meet the needs of the Army well beyond 2025.
COL Courtney P. Cote is the project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Program Executive Office Aviation, at Redstone Arsenal, AL.