Army officials discuss new UAS developments

Data links, ground control stations improve capabilities

Army unmanned aerial systems are becoming more capable because of new developments such as improved communications links and multi-platform ground control stations. The results of recent exercises and the introduction of new technologies and equipment was discussed by officials running the service’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office at the AUSA annual meeting and exposition Oct. 11.

One new piece of equipment making Army UAS more flexible is the Tactical Communications Data Link (TCDL), which allows unmanned platforms to move from analog to digital data transfer with Type 1 encryption, said Lt. Col. Scott Anderson, a product manager at Unmanned Aircraft Systems command. The TCDL also shifts Army UAS platforms from C band communications to Ku band. Moving to Ku band provides the service with more flexibility over the overburdened C band and the new band also supports interoperability between U.S. and coalition aircraft.

The TCDL also supports the Universal Ground Control station, which currently controls Gray Eagle and Shadow UAS, said Scott. There have been two successful tests of the TCDL this year, with a third test scheduled for 2012. Fielding of the system is scheduled for 2013, he said.

Anderson said his group is also involved in weaponizing Shadow UAS for the Marine Corps. This project will run for the next 18 months and the Marines will select the weapons to mount on their Shadows, he said.

The results of the recently concluded Manned Unmanned Systems Integration Capabilities (MUSIC) exercise also point to new development trends with UAS platforms, said Col. Robert Sova, an Army Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager working with the UAS office.

Noting that MUSIC was more than just a demonstration, Sova said that the exercise showed that the Army’s UAS Roadmap was on track and that fundamental foundations for interoperability and standardization have been put down. “Unmanned aircraft systems have changed the way we fight for good,” he said.

Besides interest in larger platforms such as Grey Eagle, there is also considerable interest in small tactical platforms for use at the squad and platoon level. The service’s Capability Production Document identified the need for a toolkit for modifying small UAS.

One example of this is an effort to installing gimbaled sensor kits on Raven UAS to improve their target identification and tracking capabilities. Aside from the tactical advantages of small platforms, there is also a cost issue because they are relatively inexpensive to procure, operate and maintain compared with larger platforms, Sova said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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