FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Strike Soldiers assigned to D Company, 39thBrigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), are testing new drones for Army’s Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial Surveillance program.Strike is one of four brigades in the Army selected to participate.June 1 the Soldiers performed the first test flight of the Martin UAV V-BAT drone.The V-BAT drone testing also will be part of Strike’s August rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center-Fort Polk, Louisiana.At the end of testing, Strike Soldiers will provide feedback on the capabilities and challenges of using the V-Bat and if it is a viable contender for the Army to use.“The Strike Brigade is excited for this opportunity to support Army modernization efforts,” said Col. Michael Kovacevic, commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team.“This bottom-up feedback helps ensure that our Soldiers remain better equipped and better trained than any potential adversary. Strike Soldiers will provide valuable feedback on all aspects of the V-BAT platform, from tactical employment to routine maintenance, as we test its capabilities during the coming months of intense collective training.”Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ron Rivera, tactical unmanned aerial surveillance operations technician for D Co, 39th BEB, is one of the instructors of the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial Surveillance program.“They are looking for a replacement of the current program, which is the AAI RQ-7B V2 Shadow, to replace it for units like brigade combat teams that require more expeditionary equipment,” Rivera said. “Units were selected based on who had the most time for training opportunities, which would allow them to train and deploy the systems they picked. Strike was selected because of the timeframe they would receive the system, be able to train on it, and then take it to a training event such as JRTC.”A training event like JRTC provides the perfect environment to test the V-BAT drone’s capabilities, said Spc. Anthony Sam, maintainer.“I maintain the Shadow and I’m learning how to maintain the V-BAT,” Sam said. “I do all of the maintenance on the aircraft, make sure they are ready to fly, fueling and defueling, making sure all of the services are done correctly. Comparing this to the Shadow, it’s a lot faster to deploy, but we’re still in the early stages. We’ll see after all of this testing what we decide.”Strike Soldiers began classroom and virtually simulated flight training in May. The Soldiers also were trained on the new equipment and its maintenance.They will be flight testing the V-BAT for six weeks. Every operator needs six launch and landing flights, which equals to approximately 13 hours of flight time to become certified.“We were lucky enough to be selected,” Sam said. “This is my fifth unmanned aerial vehicle system I will be qualified on. I think it’s a pretty easy system so far, I think the designers made it that way on purpose. It’s new to learn because we’re so used to the other aircraft, so it’s been a slight learning curve, but I enjoy it.”There are some capabilities of the Shadow that the V-BAT lacks, Rivera said. The Shadow has laser target acquisition and other defense intelligence capabilities. The V-BAT does not yet have these capabilities, however, it is lighter in weight and is easier to transport.“The V-BAT has an 8-by-12-foot wingspan and weighs approximately 90 pounds,” he said. “It’s much easier to transport. A current Shadow system requires roughly eight vehicles to transport it to the field. If you wanted to take the whole V-BAT system out, it’s down to a truck and a trailer.” By contrast the Shadow weights 480 pounds and has a 22-by-12-foot wingspan.The V-BAT has a vertical landing and take-off, in contrast to the Shadow that requires a 780- to 1,100-foot runway for takeoff and landing. The V-BAT requires a 20-by-20-foot area to land and take-off, Rivera said.“It’s similar to the difference between having to a move an entire house versus a one-bedroom apartment,” he said. “There is a logistic different between the amount of space needed for a V-BAT and the Shadow.”There are 13 operators and 11 maintainers from Strike participating in the V-BAT training. The V-BAT requires two maintainers, and two operators – one who flies the drone and one who works the camera.“My main responsibility is to make sure I have a general understanding of the aircraft and know the emergency procedures in case something goes wrong,” said Spc. Alexander Albritton, operator. “We’ve been trained on the entire aircraft, each individual component, how the flight plans work and how to create them, and the limitations of the aircraft.”The Strike Soldiers are excited to give feedback on their experience operating the V-BAT system.“It’s definitely cool being the only unit to try it out, I know there are three other units trying out the other models,” Albritton said. “One flight is still tough to tell, but our input will help create the best system.”The use of drones provides several advantages for troops who employ them – specifically, safer surveillance and reconnaissance, Rivera said. The input from the Soldiers testing these models will be used to create an even better model the Army will use in the future.“Being even able to put an aviator in a safe position and put a drone up, I feel is one of the top advantages of using drones versus using manned aircraft,” Rivera said. “It provides a much lower risk threshold.”The fact the 101st was selected to participate in the program and entrusted with millions of dollars of equipment speaks volumes about the reputation of the division, he said.“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Rivera said. “I think all of our Soldiers are very eager to participate. I think using this sort of technology puts the Army at the forefront as warfighters, and I think it speaks volumes about where the Army is moving toward in terms of technology.”