By Amy Sunseri, Natalie Lakosil and Joan VaseyAugust 23, 2012
Fort Huachuca, AZ. - Typically, Fort Huachuca enjoys more than 300 days a year of favorable unmanned aircraft systems flying weather due to the sunshine in its arid desert location. On top of that, there is available airspace and infrastructure at the airfield at the Black Tower training facility available to support UAS operations. Due to this, Soldiers entering into the military occupational specialty 15W, unmanned aircraft systems operators, learn their craft on the installation. This includes both on-the-ground and flight training.
Originally, the UAS MOS, 15W, formerly known as 96U, was assigned to the Army's Military Intelligence branch from 1993 to 2006, explained Bob Swann, 15W Common Core course manager, Department of the Army civilian. Today, 15W training falls under the 2-13th Aviation Regiment, a tenant unit on Fort Huachuca. The brigade's headquarters and command staff is located at Fort Rucker, Ala.
The UAS operator's course is currently 21 weeks long and consists of two phases. There are approximately 20 students per class, with three classes per month, which train a total of 864 students a year, according to Walter Rice, supervisory training instructor, UAS.
"The UAS operator supervises or operates the UAS, such as the Army's Shadow unmanned aircraft system, to include mission planning, mission sensor/payload operations, launching, remotely piloting, and recovering the aerial vehicle," said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Beal, 15W course instructor.
Training consists of fundamental tasks associated with the processes of their missions, as well as the operational role of the UAS within the scope of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition missions, explained Rice. Students also learn how to identify targets and combat equipment on the battlefield.
"The Federal Aviation Administration Unmanned Ground School (UGS) module provides the student with the basic aeronautical knowledge and skills to successfully and safely operate a UAS in the national/tactical airspace," Rice added.
Instructors here seem passionate about the skills they teach, and one Soldier explained why he teaches.
"I wanted to teach so I could basically influence new Soldiers coming into the MOS," said Staff Sgt. Brian Allen, 15W instructor, Company D, 2-13th Aviation Regiment.
"I started off as a different MOS, I was an air defender, then I [reclassified]. They were downsizing, so my recruiter pointed out UAV. I did my homework on it. It was pretty new [in 2005], and I wanted to be on board with it."
Allen later requested the opportunity to teach. He was assigned to teach Common Core "which is great. It is the first block … and they get map reading and basic Unmanned Scout Operations skills. … We teach [the students] and they build off that [learning] throughout their military career. "It is nice to know I had a part in that," he said.
Allen explained that learning the MOS is much more involved than sitting in a classroom.
"The students are not just in one setting the whole time. … Here you go from common core, then to UGS, then to in-place/displace [where they learn to prepare UASs for launch]," he said. A few weeks later, students go out to the flight line, learn to fly, are assigned to a unit where they put their training into practice. "I think the variety of it helps [learning] out a lot."
Pvt. Michael Delgado has been training in the 15W MOS since July.
"I believe UAS systems are the forefront of aviation and not only aviation, but probably military technology. To be put in the thick of things right here is pretty incredible," he said.
"I want to make a career out of it, I want to go to my unit and perform the best job that I can, and aviation is definitely a field I want to go into."
Pfc. Robert Light, 15W, is also thinking about future employment.
"I will probably make it a career for I know there are lots of opportunities for it [UAS operator] in the civilian world too, so I will just explore my options while I am in."
Upon completion of the 15W course, the students will be assigned to their first duty station. Soldiers are typically placed within a brigade combat team based on the Army's needs, said Beal. He also explained how the MOS benefits the Army.
"With the reduced cost of both the actual aircraft and reduced training costs for operators, [versus] pilots in manned aircraft, the Army benefits in two ways. Additionally, the UAS can remain aloft far longer than a manned aircraft, and there is no cost in terms of human life when the aircraft is lost. In a constrained-cost environment, UAS is the obvious solution to retain capability at the lowest cost," stated Rice.