UAS & Robotics

Army looks to integrate micro drones

The Army is working to integrate manned and unmanned systems into the force while speeding development and deployment of “micro” air and ground vehicles, according to a senior service official.

Army Maj. Gen. James Barclay described the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) concept during the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International exhibition on Aug. 13. He said the Army’s strategy also seeks to leverage unmanned systems at a time of greater budget austerity.

When Barclay rolled out the Army’s “drone roadmap” in 2010, the focus was on —supplying soldiers with unmanned surveillance platforms like Raven, Shadow and Gray Eagle.

With the Afghan war winding down, Barclay  said the MUM-T concept will stress —Micro Aerial Vehicles and smaller ground surveillance vehicles that could be used for route clearance and counter-IED operations.

Barclay, formerly an Army aviation commander and now the G-8 deputy chief of staff, said he envisions greater integration of the MUM-T concept with advanced systems like the Shadow unmanned aircraft  that has been  fielded on a small scale.

Barclay noted that micro systems, of which there were many examples at the UAS exhibition, can “get into smaller and tighter places.” He cautioned, however, that “they have to be transportable by an individual and [must be] affordable.”

Despite sequestration, Barclay also said brigade-level work continues on Shadow’s Common Tactical Common Data Link, with planned delivery in 2014. The link will provide greater interoperability with other systems. At the division level, delivery of Gray Eagle’s universal Ground Control Station is planned for 2015

Barclay stressed that future unmanned systems must be not only cheaper but “intuitive, energy-efficient, flexible and easy to train on.”  Challenges include allocation of diminishing bandwidth and, as unmanned systems proliferate in U.S. skies, safe integration of drones with commercial aircraft.

The Army chief said he is particularly interested in capabilities like  “supervised autonomy, where you can program mission sets and [the unmanned vehicle] can go do what it needs to without being tethered or [controllers] looking through a TV screen.” He also hopes that individual soldiers at the tactical level soon will be able to control multiple unmanned systems.

About the Author

David Walsh is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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