Army to Multiply Number of Sensors on its Unmanned Aircraft

By Eric Beidel
The Army wants to do more with less in the air.
This means putting more sensors on unmanned aircraft that can be operated from a single ground control station.
The Army a year from now will attempt “the largest demonstration of interoperability ever conducted” to show off these capabilities, said Tim Owings, deputy project manager for unmanned systems.
Slated to take place in September 2011 at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, the exercise will put drones and piloted aircraft in the air at the same time to perform what the Army hopes will be a seamless practice operation.
The demonstration, dubbed the manned unmanned system integration concept (MUSIC), will include the Gray Eagle, Hunter, Shadow and Raven unmanned aircraft systems. The exercise also will feature Apache and Kiowa Warrior manned helicopters.
The Army wants to fly as many aircraft as it can with fewer operators. To do this, the service must use software that allows for the control of multiple vehicles simultaneously. A universal ground control station will fly the Hunter, Shadow and Gray Eagle systems at the same time.
The MUSIC drill also will test the ability of the aircraft to use each others sensors and share video and images.
The Army has developed a “triclops” system for Gray Eagle, which adds sensors to each wing to go with the one underneath the fuselage. One of those sensors could be controlled by an Apache crew member, another could feed to a video terminal on the ground and a third could be controlled by UAS’ main operator, Owings said. The sensors also could focus on different targets, he suggested. In the case of improvised explosive devices, this means being able to track multiple people and vehicles as they scatter after placing a bomb next to the road.
The Army is also exploring the use of wide-area surveillance sensors that would give operators a larger snapshot of the battlefield. Operators have long complained that unpiloted aircraft sensors can only peer down with a narrow “soda straw” view of the battlefield. The trade-off would be lower resolution images. A Gray Eagle with the triple-sensor system will fly during the exercise at Dugway Proving Ground next September.
“The MUSIC demonstration is critical for the Army to demonstrate how all of the systems in the unmanned community are working together,” said Col. Gregory Gonzalez, project manager for unmanned systems. More importantly, the exercise will help establish a baseline for interoperability to be followed in the development of products, he said.
In addition to ground control software, the Army is developing other applications to improve its fleet of unmanned systems. Earlier this month it tested “fault-tolerance” software that helped a Shadow land itself safely despite attempts to crash it. Testers locked up the flight controls, stalled the engine and even blew off 20 inches of its wing. Each time, the aircraft landed without further damage.
“We’ll be able to reduce the damage to our aircraft as a result of engine failures,” Gonzalez said. “If they crash today, there is a huge expense that goes into replacing those aircraft.”
Another kind of software could alert personnel of subsystems or components that are on the verge of failure. Those parts then could be replaced before a breakdown.

Topics: Aviation, C4ISR, Sensors, Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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