Unmanned, manned aircraft harmonize at Army demo
Soon-to-be-deployed systems collaborate under operational conditions during MUSIC
In the next few years, Army personnel on the ground and in the air will be able to directly access and control the sensor systems of manned and unmanned aircraft flying overhead, greatly enhancing their situational awareness. These soon-to-be-fielded capabilities were successfully put through their paces at a recent exercise at Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground.
The Manned-Unmanned Systems Integration Capability (MUSIC) demonstration exhibited the Army’s ability to coordinate, communicate and share data in an operational environment with ground troops. Held Sept. 15-16, MUSIC focused on the efforts of three of the service’s aviation programs: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), Apache Attack Helicopter and Armed Scout Helicopter.
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A key part of the exercise was to seamlessly exchange video data between large and small types of unmanned aircraft. This handoff was flawless, said Tim Owings, deputy project manager for the Army’s UAS program office, at a post-event media briefing on Sept. 22. Smooth data transfer and integration was also successfully demonstrated between manned aircraft and UAS systems. The primary manned aircraft in the exercise were Block 2 Apache attack helicopters and Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters. Owings emphasized that many of these capabilities are already fielded or will be fielded within the next year.
One first for the event was multivehicle control of different types of UAS platforms from a single ground control station. This control included the Mini Universal Ground Control Station (MUGCS) and the Universal Ground Control Station. The ground control stations used the same software to fly and control all of the different platforms, Owings said.
The exercise also demonstrated bidirectional control from the One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT). This allowed users to not only use the remote video terminal to receive data, but also as a control station to direct the sensors on various aircraft. Owings described an example where the Triclops, a three-sensor variant of the Grey Eagle UAS, where one sensor was controlled by the OSRVT, another from the MUGCS and another from the primary control station. “Quite a demonstration of the complete gamut of interoperability, open architecture and manned–unmanned teaming,” he said.
The remote video terminal will provide ground troops with increased situational awareness, Owings said. He noted that besides allowing users to take control of a manned or unmanned aircraft’s sensors, the terminals also have a “point at me” feature that allows the sensors to automatically slew to the user’s location. This capability allows soldiers in the ground to immediately assess their surroundings, he said.
Among the different technologies tested at the event, the UGS has already been evaluated over the past year. What was new, Owings said, was simultaneously transitioning control from one UAS to another. These systems are scheduled to enter service in 2012 in the Army’s Shadow UAS fleet and in 2013 in the Grey Eagle fleet.
Bidirectional control from the OSRVT was another first at the event. The OSRVT allowed ground operators to take control of the aircraft’s sensors and direct them to areas that the operators wanted to see activity. This capability will be fielded at the end of the 2012 or early in the 2013 fiscal year, Army officials said.
A key component of the exercise, which allowed all of the ground terminals to link into the system and control platforms and sensors, is a common open architecture standard known as the Interoperability Profiles. This capability will also be fielded in 2012, Owings said.
Another capability demonstrated was a manned-unmanned teaming capability to Apache and Kiowa Warrior helicopters that allows their pilots to access live video streams from UAS platforms. This capability has now been fielded.
The data links used to connect all of the systems is the Tactical Common Data Link, which is being fielded on the Shadow UAS systems. The data link has already been fielded with the Hunter and Grey Eagle systems. Another data link used in the exercise was the Digital Data Link For Small UAS that will be fielded.
Many of these systems will be showcased when the Army fields its first full-spectrum combat aviation brigade, which will be equipped with Shadow and Grey Eagle UAS teamed with manned aircraft as part of a combat aviation brigade. The brigade has not yet been deployed, but when it enters service it will be equipped with 12 Grey Eagle UAS systems and eight Shadow systems, Owings said.
The Army expects to hold the exercise every two years with increased expansion of its capabilities. The next MUSIC event will focus on wide-area surveillance systems and new automation features for sensor fusion. It will also examine the exchange of multiple types of data between platforms, not just video streams, Owings said. He added that he would like to link MUSIC to other Army technology proving exercises, such as the Network Integration Exercise, to demonstrate that these efforts are complimentary.