By Ann Roosevelt

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–The Army’s Extended Range Multi-Purpose Unmanned Aircraft Weapon System made its debut here April 8 at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual convention.

"What a great opportunity to preview our first representative production item here of the Warrior aircraft," Col. Tim Crosby, deputy Program Executive Office Aviation, said standing near a Sky Warrior and an interested crowd of aviators, reporters and industry representatives.

"What a great capability…A great program and a great effort partnered with our team," he said.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) builds Sky Warrior, with team members including AAI, Sparta, and L-3 Communications [LLL].

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody, the senior Army aviator, said Sky Warrior is very important to the service for its reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition ability versus strategic needs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

"UAVs in a stovepipe lack situational awareness, lack situational curiosity and they lack situational ownership," Cody said. "If he UAV doesn’t do its job right, it doesn’t own the mistakes it makes, but the soldiers on the ground do."

If reconnaissance isn’t at the right fidelity and significant in terms of the context of a mission developing out of contact, soldiers pay the price, he said.

In the flow of operations, soldiers on the ground are constantly being updated on the situation. That makes them curious. They have a vested interest in what’s happening. "A UAV by itself doesn’t have situational awareness unless it’s tied to the people it’s working with," he said.

"That is why we’ve been pushing forward this manned, unmanned teaming. The UAV operators that the Army has will be flying the Sky Warrior, part of an integrated air-ground team," Cody said.

The operators are part of the mission briefs, sit with the air and ground commanders and they understand the flow of the mission.

The common ground station the Army will build will allow battle tracking, operators will have the wide field of view and off screen hear what’s going on in the battle. Because they were in on the mission brief, they can "develop curiosity" and go off and find things before they are tasked to do so.

"They have ownership because it’s their buddies, wearing the same patch, the same unit," he said.

"That’s why we’ve designed it as a system of systems. In and of itself it [UAV] is a powerful combat multiplier on the battlefield, but until you put all the piece parts together as a systems of systems integration– it’s not just the vertical look being passed back but it’s horizontally being distributed around the battlefield, then and only then do you get the full synergy and give our troops on the ground or troops in the air five ways to find the enemy and five ways to kill them," he said.

The Army and industry team have integrated the Future Combat Systems transport layer into Sky Warrior. "We’re going to put a Win-T package into Sky Warrior so it’s not only out there flying but it will have a Win-T com relay package so when point to point communications on the ground have a break, the Army doesn’t have to go to [a] satellite to pass data, it will be carried by Sky Warrior."

The Sky Warrior will reside at the Combat Aviation Brigade. There will be 12 air vehicles in three platoons and five common ground stations.

The division commander, corps commander or joint task force commander will allocate Sky Warrior.

The Combat Aviation Brigade commander will launch, recover and mission the aircraft. "More importantly, he’ll be able to tip and cue the brigade commanders, Shadows and other manned and unmanned systems so that we can constantly get what we want to have, an unblinking persistent stare" across the battlefield, and use and integrate every piece of our reconnaissance systems, he said.

"That’s why it’s so powerful and that’s why we fought so hard for it, and we’ve already seen the fruits of our labor with Task Force Odin," Cody said.

As well, the Army has learned from Task Force Odin that when rapid tasking of different elements of the combat teams is possible, no longer do AH-64 Apaches and OH-58 Kiowa Warriors have to fly around looking for the enemy, and perhaps being ambushed. The helicopters can be on strip alert, ready to go and ready to provide lethal power. Survival increases for aircrews and convoys.

Cody said he’s seen video where a convoy was going down a road and a Sky Warrior was up and caught a group of IED emplacers who were some miles ahead of the convoy on the route. Because the UAV operator knew where the convoy was going, he radioed back immediately. The convoy commander stopped his vehicles and went into a defensive position. An air weapons team of Apaches and Kiowas was launched. Sky Warrior lased the target. They hit the target and the IED emplacers never saw the aircraft or heard them because the Hellfire missiles were fired from a distance.

"That sort of tipping and cueing is very important," Cody said.

After that, the brigade commander sent his Shadow UAV to cover the fight, which released the Sky Warrior to go continue its search.

"That’s the essence of the difference between reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance at the strategic level," Cody said.

Neil Blue, chairman and CEO of GA-ASI, said, "the platform provides the basis for persistent surveillance that yields a combination of situational awareness, and thereby force multiplication which is organic to the Army."

Sky Warrior is "a capability that has been demonstrated for about three years," Blue said. "We have two of the Sky Warrior units, each of which has flown more than 10,000 hours."

The Sky Warrior’s composite capability "represents the state of the art of which we are proud to and recognize a beginning has been demonstrated upon which we must build to deliver an ever more formidable supplemental capability for the war fighter on an organic basis," Blue said.