An historic milestone in manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) was reached at Dugway Proving Ground in October when three separate aircraft worked together and successfully executed a live missile fire. The three-way cooperative engagement included an Apache AH-64E helicopter, a Shadow RQ-7BV2 Block 3 tactical unmanned aircraft system (TUAS) and a MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) UAS.
“This is the first accomplishment of its kind for the U.S. Army with this trio of aircraft,” noted Aaron Adam, test engineer with General Atomics, manufacturer of the Gray Eagle. Manned-unmanned teaming combines Soldiers with machines to produce greater lethality and improved survivability.
“Demonstrating this level of interoperability is a big step forward for MUM-T possibilities,” said Doug McDaniel, a senior engineer with the Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center (RIAC), a tenant organization at DPG who helped orchestrate the flight tests. “At some point, these kind of cooperative engagements will be used in combat. This is a big first step.”
During the engagement, the Apache pilot took level of interoperability (LOI) 3 control of the Shadow’s payload for reconnaissance and lasing of the target, while Gray Eagle fired a laser-guided Hellfire missile, successfully hitting the ground target more than 15,000 feet below.
The successful demonstration was part of regression testing and interoperability demonstrations of the three aircraft. Jon Jenkins, an engineer with Textron Systems, manufacturer of the Shadow, relished the opportunity to see the technology move from concept to reality.
“We’re not just checking the box. We’re using this opportunity to show that new technology feasible and it can be done,” Jenkins said. And to prove his point, the aircraft successfully completed a second three-way engagement just a few days later, this time striking the ground target with a Small Glide Munition.
The test flights conducted at Dugway’s West Desert Test Center (WDTC) also revealed another technological advancement: the data link range between the Apache and the Gray Eagle operated at a much farther distance than before, providing the opportunity for over-the-horizon reconnaissance. Proof that as technology advances, so does MUM-T sophistication.
What does this mean for U.S. ground forces and aircrews? They can remain outside the enemy’s “kill zone” and engage faster because of the shared situational awareness.
“I appreciate the standoff distance MUM-T provides and the ability to stay out of harm’s way, but it’s my wife that really loves it,” shared U.S. Army Apache pilot CW4 Michael Fresenburg, who participated in the three-way cooperative engagement and can now tell the Mrs., with confidence, that MUM-T is changing the way America’s forces fight and survive combat.
The MUM-T three-way cooperative engagement required a high level of collaboration between U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground and the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). Adjacently located to one another, DPG and UTTR share a total footprint of land and airspace that totals nearly 17,000 square miles.
“This effort spanned over 30 miles, with half taking place on DPG property and the other half on UTTR property,” shared Kerry Barraclough, WDTC RIAC Liaison, who worked closely with Roger Cannon, Chief, Flight Operations, UTTR.
“It took a huge amount of effort of cooperation and communication between both sides to make this happen, and its successful execution is a big win for our continued partnership.”