US Army on tip­ping point of UAS ca­pa­bil­i­ties

SP's MAI - - UNMANNED - [ By David Ver­gun ]

We’re on the tip­ping point of un­manned aerial sys­tems’ abil­ity to deliver ca­pa­bil­ity to the Sol­dier,” said Colonel Thomas von Eschen­bach. The un­manned aerial/air­craft sys­tem, or UAS, is no longer seen by Soldiers as a new sys­tem and as the months and years pass, it will “not just be used by a few, but will be­come in­te­gral to the army fab­ric and how it fights and is used and un­der­stood,” said Eschen­bach, who is the UAS Ca­pa­bil­ity Man­ager for US Army Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand.

Eschen­bach and oth­ers spoke re­cently at a me­dia round­table at Red­stone Ar­se­nal, Alabama, where a cel­e­bra­tion was held mark­ing the Army’s mile­stone of two mil­lion UAS flight hours.

Colonel Ti­mothy Bax­ter, Project Man­ager, UAS, noted that it took 20 years for army un­manned air­craft sys­tems to reach one mil­lion flight hours. That mile­stone came in 2010. With in­creased use of those sys­tems, it took just a few more years to reach the two mil­lion flight-hours mile­stone.

He said what is most im­pres­sive is that 90 per cent of to­tal UAS flight hours were logged in di­rect sup­port of com­bat op­er­a­tions.

“Ev­ery one of those hours has meant some­thing to a com­man­der on the ground over­seas en­gaged in com­bat,” Bax­ter said.

Bax­ter noted that of the to­tal two mil­lion flight hours, Shadow UAS logged 9,00,000 of those. How­ever, as more Gray Ea­gles are fielded, he said he ex­pects it to be the sys­tem with the most im­pres­sive mileage.

Rich Kret­zschmar, Deputy Project Man­ager, UAS, said that reach­ing three mil­lion flight hours may take longer than it did to get from one to two mil­lion be­cause the op­er­a­tions tempo in theatre has now lev­eled off.

And, as more UAS sys­tems re­turn to the US from over­seas, there could be fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to fly them be­cause of re­stricted airspace flight rules, Bax­ter added.

But the UAS will play a cru­cial part of the army’s avi­a­tion re­struc­ture ini­tia­tive, Eschen­bach said.

As bri­gade com­bat teams (BCTs), shrink from four to three per di­vi­sion and as ma­noeu­vre bat­tal­ions are rein­vested back into other BCTs, three Shadow UAS pla­toons will be put in­side of each at­tack re­con­nais­sance squadron, he said. That would add a to­tal of 30 pla­toons of Shad­ows into the com­bat avi­a­tion bri­gade struc­ture. Those squadrons will also con­tain AH-64E Apache he­li­copters.

Fu­ture UAS flight path

Don’t ex­pect to see a lot of new UAS mod­els, Bax­ter cau­tioned.

“Our plat­forms are the plat­forms we’re go­ing to have for the fore­see­able fu­ture in the army,” he ex­plained. In­stead, he said, fu­ture ef­forts will be in the area of new tech­nolo­gies for ad­vanced pay­loads and im­prove­ments in man-to-un­manned team­ing.

As to un­manned vs manned, Kret­zschmar pointed out that UASs are not re­plac­ing pi­lots. Rather, he said, they are the “ex­ten­sion of the com­man­der’s abil­ity to do things, ex­tend reach, re­duce risk and get bet­ter sit­u­a­tional aware­ness on the bat­tle­field.”

Also in the cards for UAS is some­thing not too sexy, but im­por- tant nonethe­less to a budget-chal­lenged Army: sus­tain­ment costs.

Bax­ter said the UAS com­mu­nity has moved away from con­trac­tor lo­gis­tics sup­port to “green-suiter” main­tain­ers, as Soldiers get their own mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tional spe­cial­ity and be­come more pro­fi­cient. In the next war, the Army may not have the lux­ury of set­ting up for­ward op­er­at­ing bases teem­ing with con­tract sup­port.

An­other cost sav­ings, he pointed out, is through ap­ply­ing “per­for­mance-based lo­gis­tics” to con­tracts, so as to “in­cor­po­rate bet­ter buy­ing power.”

Since Eschen­bach is with TRADOC it’s not sur­pris­ing he sees doc­trine as well as the op­er­a­tional en­vi­ron­ment dic­tat­ing the vi­sion of where UASs are headed.

Eschen­bach thinks UASs have ca­pa­bil­i­ties that go far be­yond the cur­rent state of re­con­nais­sance, sur­veil­lance, se­cu­rity and pre­ci­sion strikes. His team of plan­ners is al­ready look­ing at UAS em­ploy­ment in “Force 2025,” where UAS will vastly ex­tend the net­work, mean­ing the reach that com­man­ders have on the ground.

As this takes place over the com­ing years, he said, army lead­ers will need to bet­ter un­der­stand the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of UASs and what they can do for them.

“We’re ask­ing warfight­ers in a smaller, leaner Army to be more ex­pe­di­tionary, lethal and sur­viv­able, fo­cused on the next thing our na­tion asks us to do,” Eschen­bach con­cluded. In that en­vi­ron­ment, there’s “plenty of fu­ture for UAS.”

The RQ-7B leaves its launcher

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