Quad A 2011: US Army outlines future UAS strategy
The US Army has identified 'potential gaps' in its UAS operating concept regarding Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities, according to a senior service official.
Speaking to delegates at the Quad A annual exposition in Nashville, Col Robert Sova highlighted 'pinpoint to pinpoint delivery for tactical cargo resupply' as an example of such a capability as well as surveillance/reconnaissance missions and the potential to 'get away from runways'.
To date, the army has no VTOL UAS capability following its decision to suspend its Future Combat Systems Class I and IV UAV programmes comprising the RQ-16A T-Hawk and XM157 Fire Scout air vehicles.
However, Sova questioned the length of time between overhauls for VTOL systems as well as challenges involved in controlling air vehicles during 'confined area and unobserved landings'. He also asked whether VTOL UAS provided sufficient mission capability for 'near “0” to dash' speeds.
In the next few months, the US Army is expected to publish a third edition of Joint UAS Concept of Operations which will include cargo resupply capabilities, it was added.
In addition, Col Grant Webb, Commander Joint UAS Centre of Excellence, described current operations as 'CENTCOM-based and full motion video-centric'. He also said the army must consider UAS operations in a non-permissive environment without air supremacy and described existing training constraints including national air space limitations. 'It takes 60 days to get a certificate of authority. This is becoming more and more evident as kit arrives back from theatre,' he said.
He also highlighted the counter-UAS sector as a 'growth business' and described plans for Exercise Blue Knight later in the year, which will see F-15/16 and 22 aircraft and Apache helicopters flying against 'red force' UAS at Creech Air Force Base.
'The future UAS environment will include contested environments. Adversary use of UAS is growing all the time,' he added.
Col Gregory Gonzalez, Program Manager UAS, also described a growing demand for multi-intelligence fusion for smaller platforms and increasing autonomy as ground control stations continued to evolve.
Increasing demand for small UAS in Afghanistan is being witnessed, he said, with the number of RQ-11B Ravens for each of the nine Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) in theatre being increased from 15 to 35. In addition, the army has requested an extra 72 Puma AE UAS for reconnaissance teams operating out of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Of these, 64 have already been fielded with an additional 20 being ordered, Gonzalez stated.
Described as the 'workhorse' at BCT level, the army's RQ-7 Shadow is preparing to receive Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) upgrades including integration of the Universal Ground Control Station, Universal Ground Data Terminal and the ACE III flight computer. This will provide encryption and bi-directional capability for the One System Remote Viewing Terminal as well as interoperability with Gray Eagle and Hunter air vehicles, Gonzalez explained and said the first upgraded UAS would be delivered to the army in June for tests and training purposes. The remainder of the Shadow fleet will be upgraded in 2012 and beyond.
Finally, Gonzalez described how Gray Eagle would receive the Starlite SAR/GMTI payload later in the year as well as TRACER sensors and Griffin and Hellfire II Romeo munitions over the next few years.
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