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Unmanned Vehicles in Combat Aviation Brigades

U.S. Army representatives used the venue of the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium to highlight the expanding role of unmanned aerial systems in the new “full spectrum” Combat Aviation Brigades (CAB).

“The Vice Chief of Staff [of the Army] has approved our Full Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB),” noted Col. Christopher Carlile, Director of the Army’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence (UAS CoE). “That Full Spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade includes a Sky Warrior [Extended Range / Multi Purpose (ER/MP) UAS] while you have added two organic Shadow platoons to the regimental Cav[alry] squadron, while you have taken out nine of the manned platforms that were in that Cav squadron.”

He continued, “The question that originally came up was, ‘Isn’t that because we have had combat losses with [OH-58D] Kiowa Warriors and there are no replacements by Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters today?’ And I would be a fool to try to tell you that that didn’t enter some of the discussions…but the Army, from the Vice Chief of Staff’s office all the way down, made a strong statement that we do not want to mess with the structure unless we are going to gain something for it.

“We kind of knew, because of the ‘manned/unmanned teaming’ that was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, that there was something that this [additional UAS capability] would bring to the fight. So we ran experimentation in the Battle Lab and determined that what you got when you put manned and unmanned systems organic to an organization together that they increased your capability in the extreme. It was exponential – the old ‘synergy thing.’ It’s truly watching synergy in action. What we found was that by placing those [UAS] in there we reduced risk to the pilots. We reduced fratricide. We picked up more targets. And we were able to do the mission quicker by having those folks operating in different ways,” he said.

“So we foresee that in the future the Combat Aviation Brigades will all be going to that ‘full spectrum,’” he added. “Because what that does is give us what Gen. Casey [Chief of Staff of the Army], the Vice [Chief of Staff], and G3 of the Army have been talking about, and that’s ‘the middle ground.’ You want to focus for a medium conflict and then hopefully we can adjust one way or the other [along the spectrum of conflict] depending on where we have to go.”

“The ‘Full Spectrum’ title doesn’t come from having UAS in it,” Carlile added. “That doesn’t make it full spectrum. It’s that the brigade now has the ability to go from low intensity conflict all the way to the high intensity side. But it drops it pretty much in the middle of that [spectrum].”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...