U.S. Army upgrading Unmanned Aerial Systems

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army is mov­ing along with a series of upgrades and tech­no­log­i­cal improve­ments to its Unmanned Aer­i­al Sys­tem plat­forms, or UAS, Pro­gram Office offi­cials said April 3.

The 3,200-pound Gray Eagle Unmanned Air­craft Sys­tem waits for its mis­sion at sun­set dur­ing Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom in Afghanistan. Ten of the UAS are cur­rent­ly deployed as part of a Quick Reac­tion Capa­bil­i­ty and the QRC has helped refine require­ments before the next Low-Rate Ini­tial Pro­duc­tion of the Gray Eagle.
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The UAS improve­ments are part of a broad­er effort to bring increased sens­ing and sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ty to deployed forces, offi­cials said at the Army Avi­a­tion Asso­ci­a­tion of America’s 2012 Pro­fes­sion­al Forum and Exhi­bi­tion in Nashville.

Some of the key activ­i­ties include:

  • the addi­tion of a new Syn­thet­ic Aper­ture Radar, or SAR Ground Mov­ing Tar­get Indi­ca­tor sen­sor, known as GMTI, to the Gray Eagle UAS,
  • plans to build and deliv­er a new engine for the Shad­ow UAS,
  • and the devel­op­ment of a Uni­ver­sal Ground Con­trol Sta­tion, or UGS, able to show video feeds from Gray Eagle, Shad­ow and Hunter UAS on a sin­gle sys­tem.

At the same time, PM UAS is approach­ing these activ­i­ties with a mind to find­ing effi­cien­cies, low­er­ing costs wher­ev­er pos­si­ble and increas­ing com­pe­ti­tion among ven­dors as part of a broad­er strat­e­gy to imple­ment the tenets of the Pentagon’s Bet­ter Buy­ing Pow­er pro­gram, said Richard Kret­zschmar, deputy project man­ag­er, UAS.

“The chal­lenge we put across to our pro­grams is to look for oppor­tu­ni­ties to increase bet­ter buy­ing pow­er. That was the com­mand guid­ance. The specifics are going to be unique to var­i­ous pro­grams. We’re doing things like look­ing at the ele­ments of cost and exam­in­ing what is dri­ving reli­a­bil­i­ty so maybe we can increase the sus­tain­ment growth curve and increase com­pe­ti­tion,” said Kret­zschmar.

Kret­zch­mar point­ed to two upcom­ing Indef­i­nite Deliv­ery Indef­i­nite Quan­ti­ty, or IDIQ, con­tracts PM UAS is plan­ning for its Fam­i­ly of Small UAS, an effort to refine require­ments and deliv­er a group of small UAS such as the Raven, Puma and var­i­ous micro-sized UAS.

“The intent of these IDIQ con­tracts is to increase com­pe­ti­tion, dri­ve costs down and get a bet­ter val­ue. One of these con­tracts is for UAS-relat­ed ser­vices and one is for prod­ucts and mate­r­i­al,” he added.

The Army is still work­ing on a capa­bil­i­ties doc­u­ment out­lin­ing the para­me­ters of the Fam­i­ly of Small UAS, ser­vice offi­cials explained.

At the same time, PM UAS has recent­ly released a Request for Infor­ma­tion, or RFI, to indus­try in order to solic­it tech­ni­cal solu­tions for a new engine for the Shad­ow UAS aimed at improv­ing reli­a­bil­i­ty, said Lt. Col. Scott Ander­son, prod­uct man­ag­er, ground maneu­ver, UAS.

“The Shad­ow UAS engine replace­ment is designed to improve reli­a­bil­i­ty and add addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ty and decrease sus­tain­ment cost. It’s a mul­ti-phase pro­gram to open up the com­pe­ti­tion to mul­ti­ple ven­dors. We have issued an RFI and we’re very excit­ed about the response we got. We got 14 respons­es,” said Ander­son.

Also, the Army is observ­ing Marine Corps efforts to weaponize the Shad­ow UAS and may pur­sue a sim­i­lar course of action, Ander­son added.

The medi­um-alti­tude Gray Eagle UAS pro­gram , deployed cur­rent­ly in Afghanistan as part of what’s called a Quick Reac­tion Capa­bil­i­ty, or QRC, is prepar­ing for an upcom­ing Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion slat­ed for this sum­mer, said Col. Tim Bax­ter, project man­ag­er, UAS.

The Gray Eagle recent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the AH-64 Apache Block III attack heli­copter IOT&E at Fort Irwin, Calif., in which the UAS were able to suc­cess­ful­ly demon­strate Lev­el IV Manned-Unmanned Team­ing, or MUM. Lev­el IV MUM allows Apache pilots to not only view the live video feeds from near­by UAS from their cock­pits, but it allows pilots to con­trol the sen­sor pay­load and UAS flight path as well.

“This is a sub­stan­tial capa­bil­i­ty we are pro­vid­ing. For the first time the Apache pilots were able to see their tar­gets before they even took off,” said Bax­ter, refer­ring to the Apache Block III IOT&E.

In fact, Apache and OH 58 Kiowa War­rior scout air­craft cur­rent­ly in Afghanistan have the abil­i­ty to per­form Lev­el II MUM, mean­ing pilots can view video feeds from near­by UAS in real-time from their cock­pits.

Mean­while, the Gray Eagle QRC, which brought two small groups of four Gray Eagle’s to Afghanistan, is designed to help inform and refine require­ments for a con­cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing Pro­gram of Record; the QRC brings the added advan­tage of get­ting valu­able emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy to the force more quick­ly.

“The Gray Eagle UAS are pro­vid­ing unprece­dent­ed val­ue to the oper­a­tors. The feed­back we’re get­ting from the QRCs is that this is a game-chang­ing capa­bil­i­ty,” said Kret­zschmar.

A full com­pa­ny of 12 Gray Eagle UAS have deployed as part of a new­ly recon­fig­ured, full-spec­trum Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, he added.

The Gray Eagle UAS is also slat­ed for a Defense Acqui­si­tion Board, or DAB review by the mid­dle of next month in order for the pro­gram to receive autho­riza­tion to pro­ceed with anoth­er Low-Rate Ini­tial Pro­duc­tion pur­chase.

By the spring of 2013, PM UAS plans to deploy a new, more ver­sa­tile and effi­cient Uni­ver­sal Ground Con­trol Sta­tion, or UGS, said Lt. Col. James Kennedy, prod­uct man­ag­er, Com­mon Sys­tems Inte­gra­tion.

“This is a ground con­trol sta­tion that will be able to fly the Shad­ow, the Gray Eagle and the Hunter — all of those dif­fer­ent air­craft. The Army will be able to deploy a sin­gle per­son able to fly all three of these UAS,” Kennedy added.

PM UAS is also get­ting ready to field a next-gen­er­a­tion One Sys­tem Remote Video Ter­mi­nal, or OSRVT, with portable, lap­top com­put­er-like dis­play screens able to show real-time feeds from near­by UAS. Cur­rent OSRVTs are only able to receive or view incom­ing video, how­ev­er the next-gen­er­a­tion sys­tems will be “bi-direc­tion­al,” mean­ing they will allow the oper­a­tor to con­trol the sen­sor pay­load of a near­by UAS as well, Kret­zschmar indi­cat­ed.

The Army is also hop­ing to devel­op a uni­ver­sal con­trol sta­tion for its now-in-devel­op­ment Fam­i­ly of Small UAS, he added.

U.S. Army

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