At the first 2016 Association of the U.S. Army Hot Topic forum, a one-day event focused on Army aviation, a panel of experts discussed the future of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the U.S. Army.
"Unmanned Aircraft Systems are not only a part of ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] now, but also an integrated part of combined arms maneuver throughout the Army," said Col. Paul Cravey, noting that these systems are on the leading edge of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cravey, who serves as director, Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., said the Army’s future strategy for UAS focuses on closing current capability gaps, and increasing options available to ground commanders.
The improved Gray Eagle UAS is being fielded to specific formations across the Army, he said.
He added, "That’s going to give them a much-increased endurance time, modular payloads, and a high-definition capability."
Future Unmanned Aircraft systems will focus on runway independence, for vertical take-off and landing; survival in a denied environment; multiple weapons options; and reductions in personnel needed to operate these systems, Cravey said.
"Probably one of the most important changes that we’re looking toward in our strategy is a universal operator training program," he said.
Currently, soldiers with the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operator MOS are only trained on one platform.
In the near term, Cravey said the Army is pursuing initiatives to put more capabilities in the hands of soldiers who are currently deployed.
Lt. Col James Cutting, USA, Ret., manager of Army Aviation Programs for The Boeing Company, said that in this era of constrained budgets, the Army needs to optimize the resources it has, specifically with ISR.
"In order to optimize, you need to establish trust between the UAS operator and the unit they are supporting," he said, adding that one way to establish trust is to have the operators train with the same unit they will be supporting prior to deployment.
Some Army UAS capabilities are not meeting the needs of currently deployed Special Forces groups, said Brig Gen. Erik Peterson, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command.
"We are refining our requirements now to be freed from a runway – an echoing theme here today – and to deploy with a much lighter footprint and smaller signature," he said.
This AUSA Institute of Land Warfare Hot Topic was sponsored by Bell Helicopter, an AUSA sustaining member.