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Army Prepares to Release UAS Roadmap

In parallel with crafting the evolution and expansion of Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) structures, U.S. Army aviation planners are also in the final approval stages for the Army’s “Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Roadmap,” guidance that will help to define the service’s overall UAS strategy for the next quarter century.

Discussing the roadmap at the late-February Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium and Exposition, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Col. Christopher Carlile, director of the Army’s UAS Center of Excellence at Ft. Rucker, Ala., noted, “We’re continuing to move toward the publishing of the Army’s roadmap to the future. It is in senior level leader staffing right now – read that as TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] and Department of the Army level staff – where it is in the hands of our highest leaders.

“We believe that we have a good document that complements the strategic and operational roles that our Air Force uses their UAS for today,” he said. “And we believe that the tactical use of our UAS allow us to better aid the warfighting commander with a ‘toolbox’ with which we can reduce collateral damage while giving them the right tools to execute combat operations – and that can scale from arresting someone, to dropping leaflets for psychological operations, to going as far as providing kinetic effects.

“That’s what Army UAS does,” he added. “It allows combat commanders to do that. It allows platoon leaders – lieutenants – to talk with sergeants who are operating UAS, before those platoon leaders ‘go out the gate,’ to find out just exactly what’s on the other side of that gate when they go out there. The [UAS operators] are eating with the same soldiers in the morning. They sleep in the same areas where they are sleeping. The operators understand the tactical environment that those soldiers are in. And because of that, for the tactical use of the UAS, it makes it almost the ideal platform.”

The Army has also discovered that these “ideal” unmanned platforms bring major synergistic advantages when teamed with manned helicopter platforms and that this teaming translates to a continuing need for both manned and unmanned systems.

“Manned platforms have pros and cons and the UAS platforms have pros and cons,” Carlile said. “For example, UAV [UAS] can stay up literally for hours. The operators can work in shifts so that the UAS can stay in the air with persistent stare on the target objective area. And we don’t put people at risk when we are doing that. However, let’s talk about some of the things they have as limitations. If they see a target, in many cases they don’t have the ability to shoot back. If they lose the UAV there are also issues with that. So what we have really found is that when you team the two – the manned platform and the unmanned platform – we got such a spike on effectiveness that we really believe that in the future we are still going to have a requirement for manned platforms.

“One of the key tenets that you will take away from our roadmap is that technology is not going to replace the soldier,” he added. “The soldier, the Marine, and the other ground forces in our military, still remain the most powerful and most precious asset that the American people have.”

In terms of a timeline for releasing the roadmap, Carlile stated, “When we began [developing the roadmap] we put a mark on the wall, a target, to try to release it at the Army Aviation Association of America’s [“Quad-A”] National Convention, at Fort Worth, Texas, in the middle of April. We stand by the fact that that is when we are attempting to make it happen, but you also have to understand that we are doing about ‘two years plus’ worth of staff work in about 10 months. So, to make sure that we have a good, solid document that the senior leadership agrees with, that may ‘slide to the right’ a little. But I will tell you that the Department of the Army has vetted and committed to getting this thing published and on the street, so that our industry partners have a vision for the future and what we believe we will need, as well as for our other services and our coalition nations to understand how we are operating and how we expect to continue to operate.”

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