As the Army continues to develop its multidomain battle concept, manned-unmanned teaming will play a large role in operations going forward.
Despite multidomain battle being a new, updated vision to how the Army fights conflicts, the service has been conducting manned-unmanned teaming, or MUM-T, for some time, most notably involving Apache attack helicopter pilots being able to control MQ-1C Gray Eagles.
The retirement of the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter left the service with a capability gap, so “the Army came up with [this idea that] we’re going to use our unmanned aerial systems to do that,” Chris MacFarland, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. director of Army programs, told C4ISRNET in an interview.
GA-ASI manufactures the Gray Eagle, as well as the Air Force variants the MQ-1 Predator and the larger MQ-9 Reaper.
Apache aircraft have used MUM-T systems in battlefield situations with great success in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a spokesman from the Army’s Program Executive Office Aviation.
Moreover, the spokesman added that the AH-64E Apache is fully digitized with the latest technologies including level 4 man-unmanned teaming that allows Apache pilots to control flight path and payloads of unmanned aircraft system including the Gray Eagle. Level 4 MUM-T allows an Apache copilot gunner to not only receive live sensor imagery from an unmanned aircraft, but also take control of the sensor and weapons payloads and the aircraft navigation via waypoint management, according to Grant Taylor, engineering research psychologist for the Army Aviation Development Directorate.
The ability of a pilot in a cockpit to control these large — and armed — assets allows for a variety of advantages.
Given the sensitivities involved, Col. Paul Cravey, the Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager for Reconnaissance and Attack at the Aviation Center of Excellence, offered little detail in how these teaming scenarios might be employed. He noted that Gray Eagles can run ahead of Apaches providing “triggers for targeting” and allowing the helicopter pilots to see something coming down range to provide a decision point to go to one place or another depending on where threats are.
“They can be taken forward by Apaches if you’re going to go so far that you exceed control linkages for the guy that’s controlling them,” he said in an interview. “Then maybe they would pair together to do that and maybe they would protect one another along with other DOD assets when they get into denied environments that one of that platforms could protect the other to perform its mission.”
One of the key differences between the Gray Eagle and its Air Force counterparts is that it is locally controlled as opposed to being controlled from a remote location via a satellite link halfway around the world. The Gray Eagle is a division asset that operates mostly at the tactical and operational level as opposed to the strategic, where Predators and Reapers generally operate.
The remote control is something the Army is looking to reevaluate.
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