Current Overseas Contingency Operations will eventually come to an end and the thousands of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) currently supporting combat operations will transition back home with the owning military units. This impending transition points to a colossal need for UAS access to the National Airspace (NAS), in order for the operators to train and remain technically and tactically proficient. This point, along with the groundswell of interest among other government and non-government agencies to employ unmanned aircraft in the NAS creates the need for a hastened development of GBSAA technology.

On 27 April, 2011 the Army's Unmanned Systems Airspace Integration Concepts Product Directorate (USAIC PD), the Office of the Secretary of Defense lead for GBSAA, conducted the first ever unmanned aircraft flight within the National Airspace System utilizing an FAA approved GBSAA prototype system. USAIC, a directorate within the Army's Project Manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (PM UAS) office, teamed with Gray Eagle operations to conduct the historic flights at El Mirage, CA. In order to accelerate development and fielding time lines for GBSAA, the Army has relocated GBSAA test activities from El Mirage to Dugway Proving Ground (DPG), UT.

The Army's GBSAA testbed at DPG currently employs live feed radar systems, with plans to install two 3-Dimensional radars this summer. DPG provides the opportunity to test GBSAA system components during live as well as simulated flights, thus speeding the development of system hardware and software as well as demonstrate and support development and interoperability of common GBSAA requirements across the Services. Since DPG is located within restricted airspace, GBSAA testing will not require FAA oversight although, USAIC continues to coordinate GBSAA across the Services and with the FAA.

In addition to moving test efforts from El Mirage to DPG, the Army has improved capabilities from GBSAA prototype systems at El Mirage which was called the "Phase 1" system. Currently, the Army plans to field a "Phase 1 Lateral Transit" system to five stateside Gray Eagle installations in FY13 through FY15. The prototype system at El Mirage allowed the Gray Eagle to perform traffic pattern operations in the terminal area, whereas the Phase 1 Lateral Transit GBSAA system will allow the Gray Eagle to conduct these traffic pattern operations along with allowing for transit from a terminal area to restricted airspace through a designated tunnel in the NAS. Thus, the Phase 1 Lateral Transit GBSAA system allows for increased capability and NAS access over the Phase 1 system.

Army goals include ensuring that GBSAA systems can be made available in the near term, and to be built with open-systems architecture so that operational capability is easily expanded through engineering upgrades. Accelerating the fielding timeline for GBSAA enables a PM UAS priority of fielding Gray Eagle units to stateside Army installations. Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft will require access to the NAS to transit from Army Airfields into Restricted Airspace for training operations.

In January 2012 the Army hosted the GBSAA Advisory Panel meeting, at which time invitation was extended to all other services to participate in a technology engineering demonstration scheduled for the summer of 2012. The DPG testbed plug and play open architecture will be utilized to connect GBSAA components from the Army, Marine Corps, and the Air Force, calling for each respective service to provide respective GBSAA prototype system components. This would allow these tri-service pieces to be tested simultaneously in this engineering-level demonstration.

Currently there are no standards or regulations in place to support the qualification of an SAA system. An Army priority includes the qualification of Sense and Avoid (SAA) systems. The Army is working with the FAA, and the Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED) that serves as the Army Airworthiness Authority, as well as the other services to determine a robust, repeatable process for qualifying GBSAA systems and associated software.

PM UAS is currently in the early planning stages for the 2013 Manned Unmanned System Integration Capability II (MUSIC) exercise and early plans include the GBSAA Phase 1 Lateral Transit capability using the target platforms Gray Eagle, Hunter and Shadow. The intent of exercising GBSAA with multiple platforms is to demonstrate the cross-platform potential of the GBSAA system as currently implemented.

Through GBSAA system development and testing along with overarching process development and tri-service coordination for qualification of SAA systems, the Army continues to lean forward to provide a near-term GBSAA capability allowing for increased testing, training and mission readiness for all our service members.

Page last updated Tue May 29th, 2012 at 00:00