Unmanned Helicopters Today Don't Meet Special Operators' Needs (UPDATED)
Army Col. Douglas Rombough, program executive officer for rotary wing at SOCOM, said that the A160 Hummingbird, built by Boeing Co., will transfer to the Army’s program executive office for unmanned aircraft systems. The Army is preparing the aircraft for a second operational assessment, he told the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
The Army will equip the Hummingbird with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded wide-area surveillance system called ARGUS-IS, the autonomous real-time ground ubiquitous sensing imaging system. Developed by BAE Systems, ARGUS is providing a “quick reaction capability” for troops in theater, he said.
The SOCOM program office previously loaned several A160 aircraft to the Army for operational assessment. Officials said they plan to transfer all of the remaining rotorcraft to the PEO-UAS. “We’re done with our effort,” said Rombough. SOCOM in 2009 had announced plans to purchase up to 20 Hummingbirds from 2012 to 2017. Last September, an A160 crashed on the flightline of an airfield in Belize, where special operations units were conducting tests of an experimental foliage penetrating radar aboard the aircraft.
Though the Hummingbird is not “SOF-unique,” Rombough added that SOCOM in the future does want an autonomous vertical take-off and landing capability that can better accommodate SOF-unique mission equipment.
The Marine Corps is pursuing two autonomous helicopter systems for cargo and resupply missions. SOF units may have an interest in a cargo UAS for stability operations missions.
CLARIFICATION: A U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman said that the A160 could function as a general purpose UAS capable of serving both the services and SOCOM alike. The final decision to transfer all remaining Hummingbird aircraft to the Army has not yet been made.
CORRECTION: We inaccurately reported that U.S. Special Operations Command in 2009 announced plans to buy as many as 20 A160 Hummingbird aircraft. SOCOM had no such plans to buy additional aircraft.