PM UAS Priorities Shaped By Niche Missions
February 22, 2012
Supporting Overseas Contingencies Operations
Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) support full spectrum operations waged by U.S. forces and our allies. Maneuver units such as infantry, scout, aviation, artillery, as well as, intelligence and medical units benefit from the availability and overall effectiveness of UAS. The myriad of missions include, but are not limited to Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), battle damage assessment, target acquisition, persistent stare for around-the-clock lethal and non-lethal operations, convoy protection and anti-ambush / Improvised Explosive Device (IED) emplacement.
The Project Manager (PM), UAS is keeping pace with demands while making crucial upgrades and advancements in UAS technology. UAS capability has grown quickly within the Army. When Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began in March 2003, there were only 3 systems (13 aircraft) deployed in support of combat operations. With U.S. combat forces no longer present in Iraq, UAS support has been redirected to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. Today, there are 410 systems (1,188 aircraft) providing 24/7 support to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). As of 1 February 2012, Army unmanned aircraft systems have flown 1.46 million total hours, 90% of these hours (or 1.3 million) were in support of OIF and Operation New dawn (OND)/OEF.
PM UAS currently manages four Programs of Record (POR); Gray Eagle, Shadow®, Raven and most recently the One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT). Additionally, PM UAS works in conjunction with counterparts in the user community and with Army senior leadership to rapidly field UAS technology to the Warfighter to address emerging requirements and operational needs for the deployed commanders.
Gray Eagle Acquisition Strategy and Upgrades
The MQ-1C Gray Eagle acquisition strategy capitalizes on competitive forces, bringing cutting-edge improvements at the best cost and value. System capabilities support the major thrusts of the Department of Defense (DoD) UAS Roadmap, a host of other studies and the imperatives of Army modernization and Army Aviation Transformation. Key improvements include: a heavy fuel engine, advanced data link technology and enhanced overall battlespace awareness through liberal dissemination of data and metadata, teaming with manned platforms and steps toward integration of UAS into National and International airspace.
Gray Eagle provides combatant commanders a much improved responsive capability to conduct long-dwell, near all weather capable, wide area Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA), communications relay, and attack missions with the addition of four on-board HELLFIRE® II missiles. Gray Eagle addresses an ever-increasing demand for greater range, altitude, endurance and payload flexibility, while maintaining a greater than 80% system operational availability rate.
The number of available unmanned aircraft is finite, requiring the need for "plug and play" type multiple payload packages as a workable solution. One solution that PM UAS is working is the Triclops sensor package, which allows for three independent users to guide and direct three independent sensor payloads from one Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft. This initiative essentially increases combat capabilities and usability by threefold. Other important additions to the Gray Eagle platform are the Starlite Synthetic Aperture Radar, Moving Target Indicator (SAR/MTI) payload, as well as an initiative to streamline acquisition efficiency with integration of the Common Sensor Payload (CSP) (shared with Predator).
Better Buying Power / Efficiencies
According to Colonel Tim Baxter, PM UAS, "with the exception of the Multi-role Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) UAS, the primary acquisition emphasis will be upgrades on existing Gray Eagle, Shadow®, and Small UAS platforms. Sensors of interest include SAR with vehicle and dismount moving target indication, electronic warfare payloads of tailored capabilities, weaponization of USMC Shadows®, communications support payloads, and specialty payloads including counter-IED/mine, and chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear detection."
Interoperability in accordance with the standards of the Program Executive Officer Aviation, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Network Integration Evaluation will be crucial to vendor product acceptability throughout all of these acquisitions.
Colonel Baxter also stated, "the platforms we have right now, given the budget, are the platforms we have. So the next generation will be marked with three extensions of capability: greater flexibility to the user, superior capability, and advanced autonomy." The next generation of systems will be network resident, enabling the UAS to be responsive to networked commands and edge terminal requests for RSTA and ISR, and will be capable of optimizing planning and usage.
Current generation single payload, single sensing modularity platforms will give way to multi-Intelligence (INT), multi-sensor platforms. These new platforms will be capable of finding targets down to dismount and IED size with great efficiency and effectiveness. Future systems will have increased intelligence and autonomy on the vehicle systems to expand on the capability per person force structure. In other words, more processing of information will be done on the platforms therefore streamlining the Processing Exploitation and Dissemination (PED) process for personnel on the ground. Decreasing the time for PED processing in turn speeds decision making ability and improves time on target capabilities.
Interoperability Profiling enables Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T)
Advancements in the interoperability profile development continue to strengthen MUM-T capability. This allows the manned aircraft pilot to guide and direct unmanned aircraft 10-15 kilometers ahead maintaining a greater standoff distance from enemy combatants. MUM-T also creates the opportunity for greater lethality from Army aviation assets, at a greatly reduced risk to the manned aircraft pilot(s), since current UAS payloads include laser designators and HELLFIRE® II missiles as well as standard ISR payloads.
Advancements in interoperability profiles resulted in the OSRVT recently being named a POR. OSRVT and Bi-directional capabilities will provide the ability to achieve full interoperability among manned and unmanned aircraft systems. This interoperability continues to change and refine the way we prosecute today's and tomorrow's battles. What has historically required physical "boots on the ground" reconnaissance missions are now being conducted by such aircraft as Raven, Shadow, Hunter and Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft, alleviating the need to place our forward deployed combat forces in harm's way.
Universal Products and Operators
According to Rich Kretzschmar, deputy project manager UAS, "There are currently 1,200 or so U.S. Army unmanned aircraft in direct support of deployed combat forces. These numbers of systems represent a huge opportunity to gain efficiencies through introduction of a universal control system." He went on to say, "The universal ground control station (UGCS) moves the One System concept to the next level of interoperability and commonality." Ongoing efforts of PM UAS and the Aviation Center of Excellence to introduce a universal UAS operator, combined with the UGCS, will provide commanders with the capability to tailor their UAS vehicle and force structure to quickly adapt to the tactical situation.
Efforts on the UGCS have been bearing great fruit recently and are being realized. The vision of standards-based interoperability for acquisition efficiency and tactical flexibility was demonstrated during the September 2011 Manned Unmanned Systems Integration Capability (MUSIC) exercise. One UGCS with two "universal operators" were coupled, enabling the operation multiple medium and large UAS from one UGCS. This teaming resulted in demonstrating a fluid and agile ability to control Hunter, Shadow and Gray Eagle, as well as using the OSRVT Increment 2 to orchestrate operations of each individual aircraft and respective payloads.
Full Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade Update
The Army's combat aviation brigade standard makeup has undergone sweeping change as it seeks to restore balance within the Aviation community. The hybrid aviation brigade configuration, known as Full Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade (FSCAB), became reality in early FY12 when the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade received two platoons of Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft (8 aircraft total) with personnel. This variant literally frees up Kiowa aircraft for use as dwell aircraft or potentially to "stand up" supplemental aviation organizations. This unit is currently preparing for deployment in support of OEF.
Another piece of the FSCAB calls for the integration of Gray Eagle UAS. Fielding initiatives are set to begin in early Calendar Year (CY) 2012. The F/227th Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood Texas has been designated as the first unit to be equipped with a company of Gray Eagles and acquisition actions and Table of Organization and Equipment changes have been initiated. The notion of replacing manned aviation assets with unmanned systems is a game changer for combat aviation units, as this places the organic MUM-T capabilities directly and squarely in the hands of the FSCAB Commander.