Col. Tim Baxter ()
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The Army’s project manager office for unmanned aircraft |systems manages five major UAS programs: the small Raven and Puma, the medium-sized Shadow and Hunter, and the large Gray Eagle. The universal ground control station and One System Video Remote Terminal (OSVRT) program of record also fall within PM UAS. For an update on these programs, C4ISR & Networks Editor Barry Rosenberg interviewed Col. Tim Baxter, Army project manager for UAS. Also part of the |discussion were Lt. Col. Scott Anderson, product manager, Ground Maneuver (Shadow) Office; Lt. Col. Nick Kioutas, |product manager, Small UAS Office; and Lars Ericsson, chief, Technical Management Office.
C4ISRNET: PM UAS has almost 500 deployed support personnel for UAS operations. As troops in Afghanistan pull back into more of a support mission, has the UAS mission changed because of the drawdown, possibly making it more important or less important?
BAXTER: I think it makes the role and mission of unmanned aircraft systems more important right now. As you have less troops on the ground, the unmanned aircraft systems are picking up some of the slack in terms of force protection. Just like the drawdown in Iraq, I see us there to the end, supporting troops on the ground.
C4ISRNET: In that respect, what are your key program priorities?
BAXTER: Executing our programs of record and non-programs of record. With Gray Eagle, we had a successful initial operational test and evaluation last summer, and now we’re focused on the follow-on test and evaluation in the spring of 2015, where we’ll demonstrate some additional improvements on the system. Our focus in the background is on reliability improvements, and then we will start fielding the universal ground control station post FOT&E. With Shadow, we’ve got our FOT&E for the Tactical Common Data Link coming up at NIE [Network Integration Evaluation] 14.2 next spring. But Shadow is much more than TCDL and includes a number of improvements, [such as] … the universal ground control station and larger wings for improved performance. Across the project office and in Army aviation, we’re focused on interoperability and on manned/unmanned teaming right now. It is a reality now on the battlefield. We’ve employed manned/unmanned teaming with our forward operational units. There’s a large focus on it at Fort Rucker [the Army’s aviation center of excellence in Alabama], as well as in the aviation community, to mature the concept of manned/unmanned teaming through tactics, techniques and procedures. That is made possible by the interoperability work that’s been done by PM UAS and PEO Aviation over the last couple years. In addition, we’re deep into OSVRT fieldings right now. The OSVRT was part of a number of JUONS [Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statements] for quick-reaction capabilities that was fielded and transitioned to a program of record. We went through a Milestone C last year, and so now we’re in the process of fielding that capability to all Army units. For our Gray Eagle program, we’re in development of a ground-based sense-and-avoid system, and will start fielding that probably at Fort Hood [in Texas] in late FY14. The Army is the lead for the ground-based sense-and-avoid technology and the Air Force is the lead for airborne sense-and-avoid. So ground-based is becoming a reality for the Army. We’ve already had a test set installed at Dugway Proving Ground [in Utah], and we’re completing the development of that effort.
C4ISRNET: You’ve already developed a common controller for the smaller Ravens and Pumas, and are developing a larger universal ground control station oriented on the Shadows, Hunters and Gray Eagles. What is the status of that project?
BAXTER: For Shadow, that’s part of NIE 14.2, when we do a Follow On Test and Evaluation next spring. And on our Gray Eagle program, that’s part of a follow-on test and evaluation that we’ll execute in the spring of 2015. The idea is common hardware across our larger class focused on interoperability profiles and compliance of those profiles. But a bigger picture long term is that we’ll move toward the concept of a universal operator. Right now at Fort Huachuca [in Arizona], we train separately for our Gray Eagle, Hunter and Shadow. So Fort Rucker and the aviation center are moving toward the notion of a universal operator. That’s enabled by being out front with the hardware solution and having a universal ground control station that supports that.
C4ISRNET: What are the Army’s needs for the next generation of small UAS, and how are you addressing them?
BAXTER: There is a capability production document that is signed and back from the Joint Staff. That document includes a requirement for a medium-range UAS that will be filled by our Raven, a long-range UAS that we see filled by our Puma, and an additional requirement for a short-range micro that we don’t have right now. We’ll be pursuing a commercial off-the-shelf-type capability through competition.
C4ISRNET: What will be the mission for the micro?
KIOUTAS: The short-range micro is for the squad level, with a short-range vertical takeoff and landing [similar to a quad-copter], and a perch-and-stare capability, where it could land on top of a roof and sit there for quite a long time taking video and providing situational awareness.
C4ISRNET: Shadow is undergoing a number of performance and reliability improvements. Tell me about that.
ANDERSON: There are four performance improvements on the Shadow. The first is improving reliability by increasing time between overhauls from 250 hours up to 500 hours. The second is horsepower performance improvement. We’re at 38 hp now, and we’re targeting 45 with this effort in order to reduce strain on the engine, because it operates in the most extreme environment at 15,000 to 18,000 feet. Third, we’re going to a common heavy fuel. We’re using avgas now, and we’re currently running a competition and plan to move everything in this project office over to heavy fuel. The fourth performance enhancement is reduction of the acoustic signature.
C4ISRNET: You’ve recently given Gray Eagle an air data relay capability. What other capabilities are you exploring?
BAXTER: Air data relay on Gray Eagle is a big event for us. It’s a capability that none of the other services have demonstrated on their unmanned aircraft systems. For us, it extends the range on what our Gray Eagle can do. There’s a lot of activity in cargo UAS. Some of the other services, the Marine Corps in particular, have been pushing cargo UAS downrange [using an unmanned K-Max helicopter], and Fort Rucker is looking at conducting a couple demonstrations. I see that as a future area of growth for the Army. There is also a lot of focus on payloads across industry right now. As technology is miniaturized, that opens up more possibilities for incorporating payloads on UAS. In general, we’re looking for greater autonomy across our platforms, and that includes payloads, but there is also a focus on nonstandard electronic warfare, synthetic aperture radars and tactical SIGINT payloads. There is a lot of focus on some of these one-off or non-traditional payloads for UAS.