Full spectrum: Army pilots, Unmanned Aircraft Systems operators to team up on battlefield

FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Serv­ing as an Army Unmanned Air­craft Sys­tems oper­a­tor once meant pro­vid­ing video feed and hop­ing some­one was look­ing at the com­put­er screen besides you.

A Shad­ow Unmanned Air­craft Sys­tem launch­es in Afghanistan in 2011. Army Unmanned Air­craft Sys­tems will take on a new role as a Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade ele­ment with the upcom­ing deploy­ment this fall of the 101st Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade.
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Army Unmanned Air­craft Sys­tems, or UAS, will take on a new role as a Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, or CAB, ele­ment with the upcom­ing deploy­ment this fall of the 101st Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, 101st Air­borne Divi­sion (Air Assault) at Fort Camp­bell, Ky. 

Because of a CAB redesign, UAS oper­a­tors and heli­copter pilots will now be bet­ter synched to sup­port the ground commander’s mis­sion and save lives, said Col. Paul Bon­trager, 101st CAB com­man­der, dur­ing the 101st CAB’s Avi­a­tion Train­ing Exer­cise at Fort Ruck­er in June. 

“It’s val­ue added in hav­ing a UAS plat­form up, and Apache pilots and Kiowa pilots are both see­ing ben­e­fits of uti­liz­ing UAS. When the oper­a­tion is occur­ring the UAS oper­a­tor has the under­stand­ing and the infor­ma­tion need­ed for him to proac­tive­ly use that asset. He’s not just a per­son wait­ing to be told what to do. He’s actu­al­ly part of the mis­sion now,” Bon­trager said. 

Organ­ic UAS is one impact of the “full-spec­trum” brigade re-design that makes the 101st CAB the Army’s first Full-Spec­trum CAB

“The Full-Spec­trum CAB design includes attack, recon­nais­sance, lift and unmanned sys­tems. The mod­u­lar, stan­dard­ized CAB struc­ture is opti­mized to deliv­er max­i­mum avi­a­tion capa­bil­i­ties in the most time­ly and flex­i­ble man­ner,” said Ellis Gol­son, direc­tor, Capa­bil­i­ty Devel­op­ment and Inte­gra­tion Direc­torate for the U.S. Army Avi­a­tion Cen­ter of Excellence. 

The goal of Army UAS with­in the CAB is to give greater sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­i­ty to CAB and ground com­man­ders, and UAS oper­a­tors with­in the 101st CAB feel the struc­tur­al dif­fer­ence already. 

“We haven’t been inte­grat­ing manned and unmanned sys­tems before to this extent. We’re part of their team now and we can pro­vide pilots anoth­er set of eyes,” said Sgt. Mark Lun­day, UAS oper­a­tor for Task Force Saber, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cav­al­ry Regiment. 

Part of that dif­fer­ence is the shar­ing of infor­ma­tion and mis­sion planning. 

“Now we are going into briefs with the scout weapons team, get­ting the same infor­ma­tion. We all know what’s going on, and we can go out with a mis­sion set. They know how we work, we know how they work. We’re much more involved in what goes on,” said Spc. Tory Puetz, 2–17th UAS operator. 

The impact on Apache pilots is inte­grat­ing a new type of team­mate to the brigade, said Chief War­rant Offi­cer 3 Joshua Wana­ka, 2–17th AH-64D Instruc­tor Pilot. 

“It’s like anoth­er air team going out. Scouts use the UAS as anoth­er scout. Instead of hav­ing to hope a UAV is going to be there, or try to research where they will be, I can call and ask them to come to my loca­tion and help me right then. Before, that was out of our reach,” Wana­ka said. 

Apache and Kiowa pilots have the abil­i­ty to receive a video feed from the UAS, send their feed to a ground unit, to a wing man and to each oth­er, so that the ground com­man­der and the pilots have a clear­er pic­ture of the battlefield. 

“In the past, ground com­man­ders had to put a lot of trust in what’s being said. It had to be a pic­ture built with words, where­as now they can actu­al­ly see what we’re telling them, as we’re telling them. They can know that we’re look­ing at the same thing they’re look­ing at. In the past you nev­er would have had that abil­i­ty,” Wana­ka said. 

“The ground com­man­der can look at UAS feed or my own feed, and he can know. And I’m either wrong and he can cor­rect me on the spot, or I’ve got what they’re look­ing for and there’s no ques­tions about it,” Wana­ka said. 

The UAS help ground com­man­ders and CAB com­man­ders to make bet­ter decisions. 

“We’re there for every­one else. It’s why we fly,” Lun­day said. 

At the end of the day, it’s about sav­ing lives. 

“It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you’re talk­ing to this guy and you can’t get there soon enough. Now we can look at their video, so it’s going to increase the speed in which we can do things, react on things, so hope­ful­ly when you get there you can at least stop it. You don’t want to not be able to help that guy. If I can keep the ground forces com­ing back to the for­ward oper­at­ing base every day, it’s a win,” Wana­ka said. 

Press release
U.S. Army 

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