Battlefield Vision Brings Together Army Aircraft
September 21, 2011
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- In the desert far from the offices of the Program Executive Office for Aviation at Redstone Arsenal, a vision of the future for Army aviation became reality.
The vision -- manned-unmanned teaming of aviation systems -- solidified in the airways above Dugway Proving Ground as the Army's Apache and Kiowa helicopters teamed with Raven, Puma, Shadow, Hunter and Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft systems to complete three demonstration missions.
The stage for the demonstrations was the tarmac at the Michael Army Airfield at Dugway, where each aviation system took off and landed during the Manned Unmanned System Integration Capability activities Thursday for national media and Friday for invited guests from across the military and the Team Redstone community.
During the demonstrations, three scenarios were played out: a surveillance mission involving the Raven, Shadow, Gray Eagle, Hunter and Apache; a second surveillance mission involving Gray Eagle and Puma, and a reconnaissance and attack mission involving Hunter and Kiowa. All three scenarios relied on the Universal Ground Control Station and the One System Remote Video Terminal to integrate the systems together.
"As we move towards interoperability we've been doing these exercises in the labs, in simulations," Ed Gozdur, deputy product manager for common systems integration, said.
"Here, we get to fly. These are a few historic moments. For the first time a week ago (in demonstration run-throughs) the Universal Ground Control Station flew Shadow, Hunter and Gray Eagle from the same cockpit with the same hardware."
Besides demonstrating manned-unmanned teaming and the effectiveness of the Universal Ground Control Station during the four weeks of rehearsals at Dugway preceding the demonstrations and during the demonstrations themselves, two other accomplishments were achieved. One was to demonstrate that one universal operator can fly three unmanned aircraft simultaneously. The other demonstrated how the One System Remote Video Terminal can be used to provide commanders at the tactical edge with video information they need to make quick decisions.
"From platform to platform, we are increasing flexibility and information to allow commanders to make tactical decisions like they never could before," Gozdur said.
Col. Tim Baxter, the recently appointed project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, commended the team of contractors and government employees who have spent the last 1 1/2 years planning for the Manned Unmanned System Integration Capability demonstration, popularly known as MUSIC.
"What you are seeing here is the result of unprecedented cooperation" that Baxter said he has never seen before in his 27 years of service.
Although planning for MUSIC began in the spring of 2010, Tim Owings, deputy project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, said the organization's employees set out more than five years ago to "provide seamless integration with manned and unmanned teaming like it's never been done before. The vision in 2005 was for unmanned aircraft systems to be influential on the Army."
That vision would require common systems integration, known as horizontal integration of all unmanned aircraft systems.
"We started the drumbeat of success set on the vision and began working the issues," Owings said.
New technologies were introduced both for unmanned systems and manned systems that allowed them to communicate, including the One System Remote Video Terminal that allows operators and pilots to view video from multiple platforms, the Apache manned-unmanned capability to receive full motion video, the addition of a digital data link on Raven, the Gray Eagle's capability growth from one to three sensors, and the development of the Universal Ground Control Station and its mini-version for the Raven and Puma. Along the way, the cultural thinking of manned versus unmanned on the battlefield became manned and unmanned working together. In 2008, Dugway was chosen as a testing site for these system capabilities, and the rest is history.
"All these things together complete the package of interoperability," Owings said. "The products that led to it didn't happen on their own. It took people being involved. We had multiple contractors who worked together and cooperated and trusted each other in ways they never did before.
"This demonstration is a culmination of the vision and the cultural shift that allowed this vision to take place. …This is going to shape the Army for a long while."
Even so, the demonstration may not have even happened if Owings and others on the Unmanned Aircraft Systems team hadn't chosen a date for MUSIC some 1 1/2 years ago.
"We were doing a lot of stuff in the lab," he said. "But the last tactical mile from lab to field can seem insurmountable. We drew a line in the sand and said this is the date when we're going to show it all, whether it impresses or embarrasses. It forced everyone on the team to have some skin in the fight. Setting the date easily knocked two years off the time of development."
Demonstrating the manned-unmanned interoperability is not only good for the future value of aviation systems but also for the influence that the demonstration brings to the war fight.
"There are interoperability issues within the Army and on the battlefield," Baxter said. "Unmanned Aircraft Systems have become the intersection or the critical link to bringing together the aviation community, intelligence community, forces, maneuvers and communications community."