Army Seeking Improved Drone Capabilities

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Army has a large portfolio of unmanned aerial systems ranging from small hand-launched drones, such as the Raven, all the way to massive Gray Eagles. Going forward, service leaders would like to upgrade systems with new technology.

“If you ask me to look out beyond the horizon I will tell you I think probably of great interest is assured position navigation and timing, anti-jam [capabilities and improving] the integrity of our data and communications links,” said Col. Courtney Cote, project manager of unmanned aircraft systems at the Army’s program executive office for aviation.

Improved communication links means the service will need better encryption and threat detection technologies, he said. Additionally, he wants systems that offer “great capability” but that are smaller, lighter and more energy efficient, he said Oct. 13 during a media briefing at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Col. Thomas von Eschenbach, director of the capability development and integration directorate at Fort Rucker and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s former capability manager for unmanned aircraft systems said the service would like a “universal operator” system to fly drones.

“We would really, really like to see a common cockpit and common user interface that allows an Army unmanned systems operator to train and then … [fly] off of the system,” he said.

The system would need to be scalable and expeditionary, offering users the opportunity to move it around easily. This could come in the form of a tablet, or even a system that is fastened to a vehicle for easy mobility, he said.

“Currently our technology and our system does not allow us to do on the move controls,” he said. “We have some really heavy data links that are developed that require them to be in place and then we set up in a site.”

He noted that during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army set up fixed sites to run UAS intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions off of, he said. In the future, that would ideally change, he said.

Having a more expeditionary system will require new technology and training for troops, he said.

Cote noted that PEO aviation continues to outfit combat aviation brigades with Shadow systems for manned/unmanned teaming. Earlier this year, an Army aviation battalion from Fort Bliss was the first to be equipped with the latest version of the system — known as the RQ-7Bv2 tactical common data link Shadow.

The service will continue updating those systems across the board from the older version to the current configuration. “We’re doing that at a pace of about two to three systems a month. We’ll be doing that out until 2019,” he said.

The second version of the Shadow includes extended situational awareness with the ability to transmit live, real-time, full-motion video to multiple people on the battlefield. Additionally, there is better encryption for data links.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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