Army building an airfield for drone training
- By Kevin McCaney
- Jan 19, 2016
Budget cuts may have forced the Army to slow down on expanding its fleet of unmanned aerial systems, but the service still is placing an emphasis on using UAS, recently breaking ground on a new airfield for UAS training and looking to combine the capabilities on some of its various surveillance aircraft into multi-intelligence systems.
The Army Corps of Engineer’s Los Angeles District awarded a $26 million contract to Cox Construction of a 52,000-foot hangar and other work near the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., to accommodate training on the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, the Army’s medium-altitude, long endurance ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) unmanned aircraft. Construction of the facility, on NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications complex next to the NTC, also will include repair shops, offices, storage facilities and runway repairs, according to an Army release.
“This project is one that will make a significant contribution to the National Training Center’s ability to conduct tough and realistic training,” said Col. Kirk Gibbs, Los Angeles District commander. Work is expected to be finished in the fall of 2017. The Army in December 2014 awarded a $33 million contract for a drone-only airport at Fort Bliss, Texas, for Gray Eagles and the smaller Shadow.
But while established unmanned systems are being integrated across the Army’s full spectrum of operations—in line with the service’s UAS Roadmap—leaders are beginning to think about different directions.
Maj. Gen. Michael Lundy, the service’s chief of aviation, told a recent conference in Arlington, Va., that the Army has plenty of UAS and that it should start focusing more on manned systems, particularly vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL, systems, according to a report in Breaking Defense. VTOL aircraft, which has been a focus of military research and development, combine the lift and landing capabilities of helicopters with the flight speeds of planes.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Army’s Special Operations Aviation Command said last week he wants to combine some of the sensor capabilities in the command’s range of UAS, which go from the large Gray Eagle to smaller catapult- and hand-launched UAS such as the Shadow and Raven. Brig. Gen. Erik Peterson told a conference that the command is working to integrate the intelligence collected by those UAS into coherent information that commanders can act upon, according to Defense News.
Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.