by Richard Tomkins
Redstone Arsenal, Ala. (UPI) Oct 8, 2014
A new "first" has been achieved by the U.S. Army in the interoperability of helicopters and unmanned aircraft systems.
In the past, unmanned aerial vehicles in flight have shared surveillance video with helicopter pilots via a ground station control system, but recent technological developments now allow AH-64E Apache attack helicopter pilots to control themselves the payloads, sensors and flight of unmanned aircraft systems.
"From an operational standpoint, this provides the Apache with another pair of eyes higher in the sky and a third crew member from the Ground Control Station operator," said Sean Gilpin, UAS Level IV interoperability lead, Apache Project Office, PEO Aviation.
"Unmanned aircraft help to take away the unknown on the battlefield because they can fly out from the Apache and allow the Apache pilot to see over the horizon. Any additional capabilities we can provide above what we have now will only make it better for our Apache pilots."
The Army said the new level of interoperability is the result of a 2 1/2-year effort by the military and industry, which culminated in technology testing at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama and El Mirage Flight Test Facility in California.
Contributing to the effort were Textron, General Atomics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
The tests involved the newest Apache variant, the "E" model, the Gray Eagle medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and the RQ-7 Shadow, a small UAV from AAI Corporation.
"During our test events, we've taken the manned-unmanned capabilities of Shadow and Gray Eagle, and the Apache "E" model to a level where the Apache cannot only receive information but also transmit command and control to the unmanned systems," said Doug Wolfe, interoperability lead, Common Systems Integration, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, Program Executive Office for Aviation.
"We've also tested the use of a One System Remote Video Terminal, where the soldiers in the fight can use the OSRVT to control the sensors on all unmanned aircraft systems.
"Right now, the OSRVT allows the receipt of data from different UAS. But the next version will make OSRVT bi-directional so that it cannot only receive from all UAS, but also transmit to all UAS to control their payloads," Wolf said.
The Gray Eagle UAS is the largest UAS in the Army fleet. It can fly as high as 29,000 feet and is primarily used for wide-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; convoy protection; IED detection; close air support; target acquisition; and communications relay. It is also capable of carrying Hellfire missiles.
The Shadow is a small UAS used by brigade commanders for reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting and assessment missions. It can fly as far as 77.5 miles away from ground control stations.
The Army says the catapult-launched Shadow can detect and recognize tactical vehicles while flying at an altitude up to 8,000 feet and from a range of more than two miles.
The two types of UAS are the anchoring systems in a UAS fleet featuring a variety of aircraft.
"These new capabilities are a force multiplier for infantry and field artillery," Wolfe said. "The experiences we've had with this testing have exceeded my expectations. I am very positive about the results of our testing and the capabilities that will be provided to the war fighter."
Aerospace News at SpaceMart.com
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