Soldiers examine unmanned aircraft prototypes
A Soldier operates a Short Range Reconnaissance drone during a vendor demonstration held in June at Fort Benning, Ga. The demonstration provided a chance for Soldiers to provide feedback during the development stage of the Army's next small Unmanned ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Program Executive Office for Aviation's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, in collaboration with the Maneuver Center of Excellence Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate, conducted Short Range Reconnaissance small UAS vendor demonstrations June 17-20 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The demonstrations support the Army's direction to maximize Soldier feedback in the development phase of acquisition and to field capability faster.

Platoons currently have limited organic, small drone capability to conduct reconnaissance. The SRR - a small, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft - provides the platoon with a rapidly deployable reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition capability to enable situational awareness beyond the next terrain feature.

"We expect our maneuver units to conduct Cross-Domain Maneuvers, so it's time we provided platoons with a capable small, vertical takeoff landing UAS," Col. Tom Nelson, director for MCDID's Robotics Requirements Division, said.

In April, the project office awarded six Other Transaction Agreements to develop SRR prototypes from existing commercial platforms. Four of the six selected vendors have never contracted with the government to deliver capability prior to the SRR effort. To maximize user engagement, the project office partnered with RRD and Maneuver Battle Lab to provide live experimentation opportunities to the Soldier early in the acquisition process for the SRR platform.

This partnership allows the project office to provide multiple opportunities for Army operators to both observe and fly the prototype systems and provide firsthand feedback directly to the vendors, the project office and the requirement writers. This feedback is crucial to ensure a materiel solution meets Soldier needs.

"All six of the vendors are accomplished UAS manufacturers," Maj. John Holcomb, military assistant product manager for small UAS, said. "But only two have ever worked with the Department of Defense before. This early Soldier feedback is critical to quickly transform already capable flying machines into materiel solutions that enhance the warfighter's operational capability and reduce their cognitive burden."

During the June demonstration, each vendor showcased their commercial system capability and had the opportunity to directly engage with Soldiers as well as members of the project office, the test community and other service representatives. Soldiers observed and provided direct feedback on the capability demonstrated to help each vendor understand Army needs and mission requirements.

Vendors now have the opportunity to incorporate the Soldier feedback into their prototype designs over the summer before returning to Fort Benning in September for a hands-on, Soldier operated user feedback event. Dubbed Limited Objective Experiment, the MBL will provide a structured setting for Army operators to put the prototype systems through the paces of an operational environment. Soldiers will receive new equipment training and then operate each prototype in a controlled, operationally relevant environment. The LOE will provide real-time data on performance and system capability as well as feedback from operators on mission effectiveness. Vendors will have yet another opportunity to incorporate the feedback received from the September LOE before conducting a second LOE in January 2020.

The project office will utilize data collected during each LOE, in addition to Soldier feedback, to inform a selection decision of the final system that will enter production and fielding.

"The Army is targeting a production decision with follow-on fielding in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020," Carson Wakefield, civilian assistant product manager for small UAS, said. "With the Army Futures Command emphasis on rapid capability development and fielding, the SRR will provide new capability to small unit commanders on an accelerated timeline - approximately 18 months after award."

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Program Executive Office for Aviation