Post officials unveiled the Unmanned Aircraft System Center of Excellence at the Air Maneuver Battle Lab here Friday. The event is a result of official Army plans to consolidate UAS issues, which were mandated in June 2005.
The United States is a symbol for excellence and capabilities around the world, according to U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker Commanding General Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett II.
"The capability that this particular system brings to us - what it means in terms of the explosion of technology and how we apply it - becomes absolutely huge in the way we look at how we do things today and how we see tomorrow," he said. "This is really a first step. As you look at these systems, they represent the best that our country and our industry have to offer and also represent the best our military can do in order to apply and make sure we can continue to enjoy the freedoms that our country has every day."
Bringing the UAS Center of Excellence to Fort Rucker is tied to the Army's joint integration among other branches and how leaders look toward the future, Packett added.
Since the Army's made the decision almost three years ago, the Capability Development Integration Directorate here has been acting as the central point for UAS until the Center of Excellence was stood up, according to Ellis Golson, CDID deputy director.
"Maj. Gen. Packett's initiative to open the Center of Excellence in one office consolidates those functions," he said.
The Center of Excellence here will be the central contact point regarding Army UAS capability development initiatives, allowing the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Manager for UAS to better focus on providing Soldiers in the field the best assets possible.
The TRADOC Capabilities Manager for UAS, Col. Jeffrey Kappenman, ensures Army leadership understands system users' needs and comments.
"It's also responsible for coordinating solutions to all UAS capability gaps in the areas of doctrine, organizations, training, materiel, leadership, education, personnel or facilities. For immediate wartime requirements, the TRADOC Capabilities Manager for UAS may coordinate with units in the fight all the way up to Congressional Staffers in order to get an urgent capability into the hands of warfighters as quickly as possible," Kappenman said.
The TRADOC Capabilities Manager for UAS office, in conjunction with other proponents, develops required capabilities and the UAS Program Office at Redstone Arsenal develops potential materiel solutions to fill the user's needs and then defends that requirement to Army leadership to establish priorities, funding profiles or long-term support for the capability and the units that use unmanned technology, Kappenman added.
Because there are several Army branches that use unmanned technology, the Center of Excellence will become a central reference point, Golson said.
"There are a lot of different agencies across the Army, not just at Fort Rucker, that play a role (in) or have a need for unmanned aircraft systems. We want to make sure their concerns and issues are addressed," he said. "When the program started, it was originally with the military intelligence center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., but as UAS capabilities grew, the Department of the Army made a decision to move it to Fort Rucker."
Army leadership understood that the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker was the logical location choice for the Army's newest center of excellence, according to Kappenman.
"The synergy at Fort Rucker for Aviation combat developments, training expertise and high-end simulations can be found nowhere else in the world," he said. "With the UAS Center of Excellence, we can inject many generations of Army Aviation experience and hard lessons learned in battlefields across the world from yesterday and today. This synergy will ensure (these systems) are fully integrated into our manned operations - enhancing rather than replacing - to significantly change the way we fight in the network-centric, information dominant 21st century."
The Center of Excellence will be co-located with the Air Maneuver Battle Lab because the organization has performed extensive studies and experimentation with manned and unmanned teaming. Because of the Air Maneuver Battle Lab's "robust simulation structure," personnel can experiment with possible or future capabilities in a simulated environment, Golson said.
"We're looking at all aspects of UAS capabilities across the board," he said. "We're considering whether needs that certain branches have are specific to them or do the capabilities it needs cross over to other missions."
The newest Center of Excellence director will coordinate UAS developmental activities across the Army and work with the Joint UAS Center of Excellence at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., according to Golson.
The Center of Excellence will also coordinate studies, simulations and interactions with the UAS Board of Directors, which will be comprised of Army training organizations and proponents that have a stake in unmanned operations, Kappenman said.
While the complete structure is still in the works, the initial setup will be a director and two action officers. As resources become available, the organization may expand to include subject matter experts from other Army branches, modeling and simulations personnel, Golson said.
Because Aviation's unmanned systems are still new and growing, Kappenman said he foresees working closely with the Center of Excellence to continue developing and delivering necessary technology.