C4iSR: Air

Situational awareness, force protection hallmarks of future US Army UAS

31 October 2016

Future US Army missions will "place a premium on all types of unmanned systems" and such systems will largely be used to protect soldiers, a senior service official said on 26 October.

Unmanned systems such as the GA-ASI Gray Eagle are meant to improve US Army force protection efforts in the future. (General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems)Unmanned systems such as the GA-ASI Gray Eagle are meant to improve US Army force protection efforts in the future. (General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems)

"First, these systems must increase our situational awareness, going where manned systems cannot, thereby increasing stand-off capability and agility for our soldiers," US Army Vice Chief of Staff General Daniel Allyn said during a conference sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The army plans to field the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) MQ-1C Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) beginning in fiscal year 2018 as part of that effort, he said. Whereas the baseline Gray Eagle can remain on station for 25 hours at a range of 725 miles from its base, the IGE will extend that endurance to 48 hours.

The IGE introduces a new engine in the form of the OEM180, a 180 hp version of the original 160-hp engine with significant product improvements in power, reliability, and maintainability.

Gen Allyn also said future unmanned systems "must lighten soldiers' physical and cognitive load". The army's Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport, a ground robotic vehicle designed to carry a squad's worth of life support and combat gear, is one programme that addresses that issue. Another is a potential common ground control station for Gray Eagles and AAI RQ-7 Shadow UAVs.

Moreover, future unmanned systems "must help sustain the force with increased distribution, throughput, and efficiency", he said. They must also "facilitate movement and manoeuvre". The army is tackling that goal, he said, by seeking "scalable control" that enables remotely stationed unmanned system operators to transfer control to the field as needed during operations.

Finally, the ability to locate and neutralise deeply buried roadside bombs and other threats will be a critical capability for unmanned systems, he said.

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