By Spc. Michael Howard, Combat Aviation Brigade PAOFebruary 22, 2008
Despite their size, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles play a large role in the Global War on Terrorism.
The UAVs of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Platoon, 66th Military Intelligence Company, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas, are continually flying over the skies of northern Iraq - acting as the eyes of the 4-6 Cavalry Regiment.
They play an essential role in the sensor-to-shooter link, a revolutionary new battlefield concept that streamlines both target identification and the clearance to fire process.
Before the advent of UAS getting Positive Identification and clearance to fire required helicopters to get close to the target, revealing the helicopter's presence. Today, PID and clearance to fire can be obtained from a distance, allowing the helicopter and its crew to remain safe and the insurgents unaware.
The clearance process can go two ways: sensor-to-shooter or shooter-to-sensor.
In the traditional sensor-to-shooter link, a UAS operator sees activity that seems suspicious. He gets in contact with the 4-6 CAV battle captain. The battle captain hands the footage off to an intelligence analyst, who gets positive identification and makes the determination of hostile intent. Once the determination is made, the analyst hands the feedback to the battle captain, who in turn releases the information to the UAS Platoon. The platoon contacts Troop A, a troop of Kiowa Warrior recon helicopters who then laser the target.
"Our laser is like a spotlight coming out of the sky that points to the target, but the target can't see it," said Sgt. Marcus Centron, the UAS Platoon mission commander and unit trainer.
The Kiowa pilots see the laser pointing to the target, designate the target with their own laser designators and fire - all without the knowledge of the insurgents.
The shooter-to-sensor link works in a similar manner, only it begins with the Kiowa seeing something suspicious first, Centron said.
"Basically what happens is Thug (Troop A) will fly by, they'll see something that looks funny. They'll call up our element and say, 'UAS, we see something suspicious.' Then we take a look at it, get PID and get back to Thug, 'Roger. You have clearance to fire.'"
Today, UAS plays a central role in aviation operations. However, Centron said that the current role of UAS is only the beginning.
"Our role in the command post of the future is limitless," he said. "We have so many other aircraft coming out. Shadow right now is just the start. We've got Warrior coming out. Soon, we're not going to need Kiowas. We're not going to need anyone. When we get positive identification, we're going to fire on the target. Unmanned, I believe is the future."