Thursday, 2 June 2011

US Armies Experimental Squadron Of UAVs With Choppers

This year, the U.S. Army will create an experimental air cavalry squadron composed of 21 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters and eight RQ-7 Shadow UAVs.The US Army hopes that the new arrangement will allow the service to meet the exponentially increased demand for aerial reconnaissance with fewer forces over larger areas more efficiently.

"Unmanned aircraft have endurance and range, whereas manned aircraft have the ability to react to contacts and have better situational awareness," said Ellis Golson, director of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence's Capability Development and Integration Directorate. "We know it will work. It's just a matter of how well it will work and how we can make it even better."

The US Army has been experimenting with manned-unmanned teaming as far back as 2002 under the now-canceled RAH-66 Comanche scout helicopter program. But technological advances and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thrown the effort into fast forward.

The concept of operations for the new hybrid squadron has been developed from feedback from deployed aviation soldiers flying Kiowas and Shadows in Iraq and Afghanistan, Golson said. To boost input from the conflict zones, the Army uses a "Wikipedia-like" collaboration site where deployed soldiers contribute ideas to keep the doctrine up to date, he said.

Now the Army is working to institutionalize the lessons of the wars, where the persistent ground surveillance provided by unmanned aircraft teamed with the Kiowa Warrior has proven instrumental, said Col. Jessie Farrington, assistant G-3 for operations and aviation at Army Forces Command.

RETROFITTING THE OH-58D
Key to the effort is equipping the Kiowas with the gear to stream live video from the Shadow UAV to the helicopter's cockpit, which the Army has already begun. The new suite is similar to the video from Unmanned Aerial Systems for Interoperability Teaming Level 2 found on the Block II version of the AH-64D Apache.

"Our system is that on steroids, but a lot lighter," said Lt. Col. Scott Rauer, the Army's product manager for the Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopter.

The Tactical Common Datalink will enable the Kiowa to share information with ground commanders and other aircraft, but it won't allow pilots to control the Shadows.

The program office, which had previously demonstrated Level 2 manned-unmanned teaming in July 2009 as part of an experiment, rapidly modified its prototype equipment to production standards to meet the urgent demand from deployed commanders, he said.

"That system was actually developed by the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Va.," said Rauer, who credited the talent at the office with developing a "fantastic system."

A more advanced Level 4 manned-unmanned teaming system, which would allow the Kiowa to take full control of the Shadow instead of just receiving and transmitting video data, is unlikely to be fitted to the OH-58D, Golson said. The helicopter lacks the "space, weight and power" needed to support such equipment.

However, if a pending analysis of alternatives concludes the Army requires a new helicopter, the aircraft may be fitted with Level 4 teaming abilities if it has enough power, he said.

For now, the Army is focused on creating the first prototype hybrid air cavalry squadron, Golson said. Once the unit is selected, trained and reorganized for its new role, the squadron will deploy to Afghanistan in fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, 2011. The forthcoming operational deployment will highlight "what works and what doesn't," he said.

Subsequently, the Army will adjust the organization of the squadron based on the "lessons learned" before converting further units to the new arrangement. "We have looked at this extensively. In every case, it seems to make sense. So ... we think we're getting more bang for the buck," Golson said.

If that is realized, Farrington said, the Army plans to convert three units per year to the new configuration until the entire force is standardized. Golson said it would take about five years to reconfigure all units.

In operation, a Shadow unmanned aircraft could be stationed to provide persistent coverage over particular geographic areas to cue Kiowa Warriors to hot spots. The Shadow also could be used to perform "active reconnaissance" where an unexpected contact is made with enemy forces. The Shadow would continue with the reconnaissance mission while manned choppers attack the enemy force, Golson said.

The UAVs allow the air cavalry squadron to maintain continuous coverage of the enemy, which is not possible with a force composed solely of Kiowa Warriors, Golson said. OH-58Ds have to perform a complex handoff maneuver when a relief helicopter comes on station, Farrington said. Adding Shadows would allow a cavalry squadron to maintain unbroken coverage during such handoffs.

The US Army does not plan to arm the Shadows."In the operating concept, reconnaissance is at a premium. We don't want to trade endurance for weapons," Golson said.The Shadow's six-hour endurance, three times greater than the Kiowa, is a key advantage.

Still, Golson said, the Shadow carries a laser designator and data links that would allow it to pass targeting information to armed aircraft such as the Kiowa Warrior, the AH-64D Apache or even a Sky Warrior unmanned aircraft, which would make the actual kill."So in reality, it is armed," Golson said.

SHAPING THE FUTURE
The squadron's experience may shape the future of the service's air cavalry units.

The Army's Training and Doctrine Command is working on an Armed Aerial Scout Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) to help determine what UAV to buy and whether to upgrade the Kiowa or replace it with a new or existing aircraft. The AoA's second part, is looking at the mix of manned and unmanned aircraft.

It is possible the Army would end up with two parallel air cavalry inventories if the AOA concludes the service requires a new helicopter and a new unmanned aircraft, Golson said.Nonetheless, the Army will retain the venerable Kiowa Warrior for at least the next 15 years, Rauer said.

Both Golson and Farrington, however, said the Army would try to minimize buying any extra Shadows by carefully managing the existing inventory between deployed forces and those at their home stations. The Army does not provide numbers on how many Shadows are deployed overseas."It's all on the table. We're anxious to see where we go from here," Rauer said.


RQ-7 Shadow Key Data:

Manufacturer
AAI Corporation
Primary Operator
US Army

Dimensions:

Wingspan
4.27m
Length
3.4m
Height
0.86m

Weights:

Empty Weight
90kg
Maximum Payload
25.3kg
Maximum Take-Off Weight
127.3kg
Maximum Gross Weight
170kg

Engines:

Type
1 x UEL AR 741 rotary engine
Rating
28.3kW
Fuel Capacity
RQ-7A – 40l<br />RQ-7B – 57l

Performance:

Speed
194.5km/h (105kt)
Flight Ceiling
4,572m (15,000ft)
Endurance
5 to 7 hours
Mission Radius
200km
Climb Rate
300m to 450m a minute
Take-Off Distance (Launcher)
10m
Maximum Dash Speed
219km/h (118kt)
Cruise Speed
167km/h (90kt)
Loiter Speed
111km/h (60kt)

Datalinks:

Datalink Bands
X band, C band, UHF
Standard Datalink Range
50km
Optional Datalink Range
200km