The combination of unmanned aerial vehicles and piloted rotorcraft can prove
critical for the future force concept, according to U.S. Army officials. To
that purpose, the Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate is testing
technologies and concepts that would allow helicopters to remotely control UAVs.
The goal is for UAVs to perform as part of a rotary wing aviation team, Raymond
Wall, head of the AATD systems integration division, told National Defense.
“We are trying to bring intelligence to augment the human operator’s
He explained that, traditionally, “UAVs have been controlled by a ground
station, but we feel that we want to go into taking control of the UAV and flying
it along with the helicopter to be the eyes, ears and sensors forward for the
These unmanned systems could be deployed with the RAH-66 Comanche, the AH-64D
Longbow Apache and the A2C2S command-and-control Black Hawk, said Wall. The
UAVs could be Predator, Shadow, Hunter and future air-launched UAVs that the
AATD also is evaluating.
The helicopter should be able to control the payload as well as the platform
from the cockpit. The Army demonstrated that ability at Fort Polk, La., back
in 2000. However, controlling the UAV increased the pilots’ workload significantly,
Currently, under a program called AMUST—short for Airborne Manned/Unmanned
System Technology—AATD is seeking to reduce the number of tasks pilots
would have to do to control those UAVs. AMUST will develop software and hardware
to enable the commands to the UAV to be transmitted through the tactical common
The unmanned system will have to fly its mission with minimum human intervention.
Required route and communication updates will be transmitted to the UAV by computer.
“By taking a UAV and having that feed information directly into the cockpit
of the helicopter, I have a sensor now that can go 10-20 km ahead of me, and
allow me to get information back directly,” said Wall. “I can see
what that UAV sees, and I can take what that UAV sees and tell it where I want
it to sweep.”
The AMUST program is wrapping up this month. Once it is completed, the findings
will transfer into the Hunter Stand Off Killer Team (HSKT) advanced concept
technology demonstration (ACTD). HSKT is a joint Army, Navy and office of the
secretary of defense endeavor to improve situational awareness and provide precision
targeting capability. The HSKT will provide a company of Longbow Apaches with
decision aids and manned-unmanned teaming, as well as connectivity to the F/A-18’s
precision targeting and weapon delivery capabilities.
The ACTD is sponsored both by the U.S. Pacific Command and Special Operations
Command. So far, the program has received $60 million from both the Army and
Meanwhile, the AATD also is exploring capabilities for unmanned systems to
execute missions now performed by helicopters. One example is the rotary wing
Vigilante, which initially was used for experimentation for vertical take-off
and landing of unmanned systems, said Wall. Vigilante was developed by Advanced
Technology Incorporated in Newport News, Va., and Science Applications International
“Vigilante is just a test bed program that I can afford to bring in,”
said Wall. Equipped with a Webcam, the Vigilante can transmit images to a ground
It has a maximum gross weight of 1,100 pounds, a main rotor diameter of 23
feet and a main rotor height of 8 feet. Vigilante can fly at a speed of 96 knots
and at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. It has a 300-pound payload capacity.
“We think that there is a spot in the market for VTOL UAVs,” said
The Vigilante now is being used for testing the low-cost precision kill guided
rocket. “We put a laser-guided seeker head on a hydro rocket to get a
precision kill capability,” he explained. The weapon hit within one meter
of the target in recent tests.
With the addition of a guidance section between the 2.75-inch rocket motor
and the warhead, the Hydra-70 rocket can be turned into a laser-guided weapon.
The technology offers the accuracy missing from the current Hydra-70 rocket,
filling the gap between the Hellfire missile and unguided rockets. It costs
less than $10,000 per round in high rate production quantities, according to
BAE Systems, the contractor selected for LCPK.
LCPK was tested in August. The Vigilante was supposed to fire the LCPK at the
end of November, according to Wall. LCPK will be tested on the Longbow next
year, but details still need to be worked out, said Wall.
According to Kevin McGonicle, a senior engineer at ATI, Vigilante “could
go out, designate a target and shoot, all the while controlled by a Black Hawk.”
Additionally, AATD plans to launch a mini-UAV from a rocket pod on an aircraft.
The Wing Store UAV program started two and a half years ago, said Ned Chase, from AATD’s platform technology division. Wing Store is supposed to be
deployable from any M260/M261-equipped aircraft. Once launched, the UAV would
“look ahead of the host aircraft, broadcast signals back and tell the
pilot what is out there, give him a view of what it can see, who is on the ground,
where they are,” said Chase. At the end of the mission, it would land
in a controlled crash.
“The wing folds out as it comes out. There is an electric-boost motor
that we are using now for flight-testing that propels” the UAV out of
the tube, said Chase. To enhance performance, Chase’s team will use a
small turbine engine.
AATD tested the system on a Cobra helicopter. “The control system that
we used was very rudimentary,” Chase said. The UAV had its first flight
early this summer. Thorpe Seeop in Mesa, Ariz., produces the WSUAV.
Future Combat Systems
Several of the concepts AATD is testing have the potential to fit into the
four classes of unmanned aerial systems sketched out for the FCS program.
Class 1 will be a platoon-class small aircraft. Class 2 will operate at the
company level. Class 3 will be attached to the battalion and Class 4 to the
brigade commander. Each FCS brigade would have 36 class-1, 36 class-2, 12 class-3
and 16 class-4 aircraft.
The Army has not yet selected any specific UAVs for the program. The AATD provided
support to the FCS LSI team (Boeing-SAIC) for evaluating the UAV class recommendations,
“We are trying to determine the affordability of the UAVs,” said
Class 1 and 2 UAVs have “very strict requirements,” said Maj. Chris
Grinsell, deputy program manager for the A-160 Hummingbird at AATD. The A-160
is a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV developed by DARPA. The specifications
for Class 3 and 4 are less clear, Grinsell added.
The smallest UAV—a potential class 1—is the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV),
a 9-inch, 8-ounce ducted fan UAV that can be carried and launched by a soldier.
It is being developed under an ACTD program. The Army also is maturing the Organic
Air Vehicle (OAV), a larger 19-inch ducted fan UAV designed to be launched from
an FCS platform.
A contender for both the MAV and the OAV is the vertical-takeoff ISTAR—in
9-inch and 19-inch versions respectively—built by Allied Aerospace. “These
UAVs are hand laid and hand built one at a time,” said Mark Finger, a
company spokesman. ISTAR can fly for about an hour, he said. However, wind can
cause it to crash. It also is extremely loud. “We are working on the acoustics,
by putting more blades on the prop,” said Finger. The goal is to go from
four to seven blades.
“It is a re-locatable sensor. You can fling it over to a building corner
and set it down and then shut it down. Then, it is perfectly quiet,” he
“That is where the fixed-wing aircraft really can’t match us, because
they have to continue flying or land on the ground somewhere, and this can keep
going under the tree line and shut down, unlike a helicopter with exposed blades.”
The Army is making more significant research investments in the larger UAVs.
One of these is the vertical takeoff A-160 Hummingbird Warrior UAV, which will
provide communications relay and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
for the FCS units of action.
The Shadow UAV, currently being fielded, could be considered for class 2. The
Hummingbird would fit the specs for class 3, even though it could fulfill the
role for class 4, according to Grinsell.
Hummingbird, produced by Frontier Systems, in Irvine, Calif., has flown several
times, said Chase. The flights were of varying endurance, up to about four hours.
Hummingbird also conducted a first flight with an electro-optical payload, he
Grinsell noted that Hummingbird consumes one-eighth of the fuel than was projected.
This proves that the Hummingbird can potentially reach its 40-hour flight goal,
The Army still is working to get the vehicle to fly to 140 knots, said Grinsell.
Reliability of the vehicle also needs to be improved, he said, “because
one of the things that has cancelled UAV programs in the past is that they do
not have high reliability and you can’t put high-cost payloads onto them.”
The Hummingbird rotor can spin 50 percent slower than on regular helicopters
and that reduces the power required to operate it, said Grinsell. He said that
he hopes Hummingbird will become an Army program in the future, but of more
importance is that the rotor-wing community accepts the technology.