Army to Equip Unmanned Aerial Vehicles With New High-Tech Gear

By Eric Beidel
The Army over the past decade has deployed more than a thousand unmanned surveillance aircraft, which have flown more than amillion combat hours. The plan is to continue to expand these capabilities, officials said. But instead of acquiring more UAVs, the Army will seek to installmore sensors on existing aircraft and increase the use of longer-endurance systems such as airships.
“We're trying to understand what we're going to look like after the war is over,” said Terry L. Mitchell, intelligence futures director at Army headquarters. One certainty is that any future surveillance aircraft should have multiple sensors, he said Dec. 14 at the Army Aviation Association of America's annual symposium outside Washington, D.C.
There is growing interest in hybrid airships such as the long endurance multi-intelligence vehicle, or LEMV, which has 18 different bays to host sensors. The Army will begin fielding the LEMV, which can carry four full-motion video sensors, in late 2011 or early 2012, Mitchell said. The airship, which is being developed by Northrop Grumman, will be as long as a football field and as high as a four-story building. It will be able to stay up in the air for 21 days at a time.
The Army will increase its use of aerostats, Mitchell said. “We'll probably have a little over 100 in [theater] next year,” he said.“It's all about persistence.”
Making the most use out of current aircraft is another priority, Mitchell said. Engineers at the Army's unmanned aerial systems project office have developed a “triclops” system for the extended-range multipurpose Gray Eagle drone. Triclops, which stands for Triple Common Sensor Payload Line-of-sight Operations, consists of three sensor balls. One is controlled by a soldier on the ground, another by an airborne operator from an Apache helicopter and the other by the UAV operator. The sensors also could focus on different targets, which helps in the hunt for improvised explosive devices, officials said.
The UAS project office also is working on advanced programs to increase intelligence, surveillance and recognizance (ISR) capabilities. One is a collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command to field three vertical take-off and landing unmanned helicopters.
Another project designed to provide better intelligence to ground troops was described by UAS Project Manager Col. Gregory Gonzalez as a “Google search for ISR products.” The Heterogeneous Airborne Reconnaissance Team, or HART, is a suite of computers installed on surveillance aircraft that streams video feed to a hand-held device used by ground troops. With HART, soldiers could request to see live or archived video and imagery of a specific area. The technology has been in development since 2005.Northrop Grumman received a $46 million four-year contract in July to further develop and test the system.

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

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