LAS VEGAS — The U.S. Army is looking at the potential cost savings of training an unmanned aircraft operator on a universal ground station that can control different types of systems, rather than individually on each specific platform.
“If you have a [ground control] shelter that can operate all your UAS [unmanned aircraft systems], do you need to send him through say Shadow training and then send him after that through Grey Eagle training?” Col. Grant Webb, capability manager for unmanned aircraft systems at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, said during an Aug. 7 presentation at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual North America Unmanned Systems conference.
The Army will begin the cost benefit analysis, which will look at the fiscal and time savings of this different training method, next month, Webb said. Officials will examine a concept in which operators would be trained on the ground system and would then receive platform-specific training once assigned to a unit.
Next year, the Army will receive its first universal ground station that can control three of its unmanned aircraft, the General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle, Israel Aerospace Industries RQ-5 Hunter and AAI RQ-7 Shadow.
The service is buying two types of universal ground control stations, one for Shadow units that is mounted on the back of a humvee and another for Grey Eagle units that is mounted on the back of a larger vehicle.
“Those two systems will be able to operate any one of those aircraft,” Webb said. “It really improves our interoperability [and] expands the potential of how the warfighter could orchestrate employing these three platforms that we have in the inventory.”
The first Shadow unit universal ground control station is scheduled for delivery in early 2013 and the first station for a Grey Eagle unit later that same year.
The goal is to have the training study done before the ground control systems arrive at units.
Webb noted that Army officials are split 50-50 on whether this new training method is feasible.
“What we need to do is capture all of that, make this a formal study and determine whether this is something that the Army wants to do,” he said.
Army Finalizing Cargo UAS CONOPS
The Army is also finalizing a cargo UAS concept of operations (CONOPS).
“We’ve written it and it’s been approved at Fort Rucker,” he said. “Now it’s being staffed out to all of the other centers of excellence.”
The document details how the Army would use an unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. “It would be in the combat aviation brigade, but it’ll work with the sustainers, so the VTOL UAS would be able to lift equipment out to” forward-based soldiers, Webb said. The document is still in a draft form, but Webb expressed optimism it would be approved.
About a year ago, the Pentagon’s Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence — at Creech Air Force Base northwest of Las Vegas – developed a joint cargo UAS concept of operations.
Grey Eagle Redesign Study Wrapping Up
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno directed a study to examine the service’s General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle unmanned aircraft companies “to determine if they are properly formed,” Webb said.
Right now, each company has 12 aircraft, but “we don’t have them scheduled to be in each division that the Army has,” Webb said.
Odierno would like to have a Grey Eagle company in each division, both in the United States and overseas.
The guidelines for the study did not allow for a plus up in soldiers, aircraft or funding.
“We developed a couple of coursed of action and what it’s going to require is … we’re going to have to reduce the companies” from 12 aircraft to either eight or nine, Webb said. The results have not been finalized as the study is going through the staffing process.
That said, all of the courses of action “come with a bill,” he said. Some require additional ground control stations or other items.
“This is going to continue on for some time and I think we’ll wind up going to the [Pentagon] maybe next month and come to a consolidated answer for the chief of staff of the Army,” Webb said.