Lt. Gen. Kevin Mangum defended the vital role unmanned systems play to improve situational awareness for the soldier on the ground. / US Army Training and Doctrine Command
ORLANDO, FLA. — At the opening ceremonies for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) annual conference, the Army’s Chief of Staff for Training and Doctrine Command defended the need for the service to have unmanned systems.
“There’s a lot of discussion over time of why the Army needs these unmanned systems, and why at the tactical level,” Lt. Gen. Kevin Mangum said, before arguing that the service needs to make sure soldiers on the ground have access to eye-in-the-sky capabilities.
“To give those soldiers the tools to be able to see, and gain that awareness and dominance, is what we’re about,” he said. “When a solder on point closing on the enemy needs unmanned support, he needs it now. Not in a few minutes, not after a request, he needs it now. So the risk and reaction time is really the driver for us putting these tools and this capability in the hands of our young soldiers.”
At the same time, he acknowledged that greater communication between the Army and its sister services could yield benefits for the Pentagon. That echoes comments made by a top Air Force official last week.
Mangum noted that the Army hopes to improve two capabilities for its unmanned fleet. The first is manned/unmanned teaming, what he called “one of the most exciting pieces we’re going after” in the Army, a “powerful, game-changing capability.”
At the core of the manned/unmanned plan is the AH-64E, a modified version of the Army’s Apache helicopter. Those are capable of connecting with a Grey Eagle UAV, with tests showing a pilot in the AH-64E capable of controlling a Grey Eagle at a range of 70 miles.
Asked whether the AH-64E plan relied on an Army decision to absorb helicopters from its reserve component — something that Reserve and Guard supporters on the Hill are lining up against — Mangum indicated a backup plan was in place.
“I don’t know where we’ll end up with the transfer for H-64s, but there is a plan for us to be able to provide the equipment and manning we need in the event somebody comes up with another, or better, plan,” he said. “I think we’re safe for the near to midterm and we’ve got the capability as we continue to field the AH-64E. It just went to Afghanistan this month. That capability, we are starting to grow it and it will be a game changer as we move forward.”
The Army is also working on developing a universal terminal for its unmanned systems, something that could save the service costs down the road while also streamlining the use of its various systems.
“We’re looking forward to developing a universal ground control station that we can operate any of our unmanned systems with, except for those manned portable systems, the backpacks and micro Nanos,” he said.