By Monica K. GuthrieApril 17, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla., -- The future of military capabilities was tested during the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at Fort Sill. The event took place from April 3 through 13 and brought more than 40 industry partners and government agencies together to experiment on new equipment and technologies. Additionally Soldiers from across the country took part in the event, experimenting with equipment that for some projects were only concepts a year ago.
"This is a collaborative effort between the Fires Center of Excellence and the Army Capabilities Integration Center," said Lt. Col. Jeff Erts, chief of experimentation and war gaming at Fires Battle Lab.
The first objective of the MFIX was to look at systems and processes to decrease the time it takes to engage targets said Erts. Targets on the battlefield may be fired against using precision munitions and therefore require gathering precise locations rapidly.
The Hunter and Killer vehicles were two new platforms experimented at MFIX that would provide Soldiers with multi-domain capabilities to defeat multiple enemies swiftly. Mounted on vehicles resembling dune buggies, the Hunter and Killer platforms have the ability to deploy rapidly, track aircraft and perform three-dimensional fires targeting among other capabilities.
"We want the forward observer to fight in their domain which is land-based fires, precision firing," said Scott Patton, science and technology strategist for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) Battlefield Operating Systems Suites (BOSS) Team, who helped design the Hunter and Killer. "In the land domain, precision fires, everything is about getting precision fast so you can shoot."
The Hunter and Killer vehicles were also experimented on to see if Soldiers would be able to do their primary mission, which is be a forward observer, and then be able to handle the additional workload should they be confronted with a threat from another domain. This multitasking was the second objective of MFIX which was to evaluate if current fires support Soldiers could add another duty to their mission. The experiment evaluated the ability of Soldiers to conduct their traditional artillery mission but also added a counter unmanned aerial vehicle mission to their responsibilities.
The Hunter/Killer vehicles gauged Soldier's multitasking abilities as did the AUDS, which stands for anti-unmanned aerial vehicle defense system, which works against UAVs, or drones, by detecting, tracking, identifying and defeating them said Tom Scott, president of LITEYE Systems, who helped create AUDS. With AUDS, which was deployed to units in October 2016, users can detect a UAV on their radar, slew up a camera, see the drone in the camera, pull a trigger and send concentrated amount of energy toward it which would interrupt the signal between the UAV and its operator.
"The radar portion is not my (military occupational specialty) but anything can happen and you have to learn multiple jobs," said Pvt. Shamar Paulhill, an air missile defense crew member from the 108th Air Defense Artillery at Fort Bragg, N.C. Paulhill came to Fort Sill to experiment with the AUDS. "I can see where this will help us in the future."
The third objective of MFIX was to continue the study of high-energy lasers. Last year MFIX brought a compact laser weapons system using a 2-kilowatt laser mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle called the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL). The 2016 experiments used the laser against UAV threats and boasted an ability to provide an "unlimited magazine" to Soldiers for as little as the cost to run the generator. This year, the experiment pushed the abilities and increased the laser to 5 kilowatts.
"We're working with Space and Missile Defense Command, using their mobile expeditionary high-energy laser to engage various targets to include low-flying UAV," said Erts. "For the very first time here at MFIX 2017, U.S. Army Soldiers engaged and destroyed aerial targets."
Soldiers defeating UAVs with the MEHEL's laser was an accomplishment echoed by Adam Aberle, with the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command. Aberle said last year contractors operated the experiments and this year Soldiers were incorporated into the experimentation. They were trained on the systems and then operated the systems for the entire duration of MFIX.
"Really one of the biggest things, and the thing that we're highlighting, is that this was the first time Soldiers destroyed a UAS," he said. "They're a very small target flying in clutter. Being able to maintain a track on them is very challenging."
The final objective of MFIX was to delve into the realm of resupply, looking at ways to deliver supplies to the forward edge of the battlefield using autonomous unmanned aerial systems, said Erts. The system called joint tactical autonomous air resupply systems (JTAARS) can carry small packages but have plans to be scaled to carry 600 pounds around the battlefield.
"Anytime you don't have to put Soldiers' lives in danger to deliver supplies, that's a benefit," said Erts. "So generally sustainment convoys are lightly armored, they don't have a lot offense or defensive capabilities. If we can fly over the heads of the enemy and deliver supplies without having to engage possible enemy along the way, that's going to save Soldiers' lives."