ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
Importance of Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teams to Grow as Army Divests Kiowa Warriors
By Valerie Insinna
Army aviation leaders said the service will continue to replace OH-58 Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters teamed with unmanned aircraft.
Col. Jeff White, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager for reconnaissance and attack, would not elaborate on whether the fiscal year 2016 budget contains any changes to the aviation restructure plan introduced last year.
But of the divestiture of the Kiowa Warriors and transition of those units to AH-64D and E models, he said “that decision is final.”
As part of the restructuring, the Army will mothball its OH-58 and TH-67 training helicopter fleets. The active Army will conduct reconnaissance missions with a combination of drones and AH-64 attack helicopters. In order to have enough Apaches to execute that mission, Army leaders ordered the National Guard to transfer all 192 of its AH-64s to the active component, with the Guard receiving 111 UH-60 Black Hawks in return.
Congress has vehemently opposed the initiative. The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act passed in December prohibits the transfer of National Guard Apaches to the active component until fiscal year 2016. It also called for the creation of a National Commission on the Future of the U.S. Army to look at the force structure of the service’s active, reserve and Guard components.
The Army plans to ramp up manned-unmanned teaming, commonly referred to as MUM-T, as Kiowa Warrior units phase out, White said Jan. 28 during a briefing to reporters in Arlington, Virginia.
The service has already divested two OH-58 units and has started on a third.
It has recently started fielding AH-64Es that can transmit and receive full-motion video with Shadow and Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems, he said. Eventually the pilots in those helicopters will be able to control the UAS’s sensors, weapons and the air vehicle itself — a capability the Army terms “level of interoperability” or LOI 4.
“We think that capability will be approved and starting to field in FY2019,” which is around the same time Army aviation leaders plan to have OH-58s completely divested from the fleet, he said. If cost or schedule delays postpone those operations, the service will rely on its existing Apaches and UAS to perform the Kiowa’s reconnaissance mission.
We don't think there will be [delays] because of the importance of the additional capabilities [we get] as we leverage the combined aspect of manned, unmanned teaming,” he said.
However, White noted there was risk involved not only in fielding the equipment and technology necessary for MUM-T operations, but also for training pilots and forming the doctrine. How the Army would mitigate that risk “depends on the specific situation and the specific dynamics at that current time,” he said.
Meanwhile, plans to replace AH-64Ds with new E-models are moving forward, with the Army in discussions with Boeing about a multi-year contract for fiscal years 2017 through 2021, said Col. Jeff Hager, the service’s program manager. The goal is for the secretary of defense to sign off on the deal in March 2016.
Several countries are also interested in acquiring Apaches, said Mark Balew, Boeing’s head of attack helicopter business development. The company will deliver the first South Korean AH-64 this year, and Qatar and Indonesia also plan to buy the aircraft.
“We don’t normally go and specify which international customers are coming to look at the Apache until they make some sort of announcement, but we have three or four new ones looking at the aircraft, making inquiries, asking questions,” he said.