Army UAS Office Aims At Effectiveness, Efficiency

Army UAS Office Aims At Effectiveness, Efficiency

The Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office aims to drive efficiency and effectiveness in all they do, and part of it involves gearing up for the Manned-Unmanned Systems Integration Capabilities (MUSIC) exercise coming in September, officials said.

“There’s been an absolute incredible amount of work done over the past couple of years in preparation for this type of activity, or exercise,” Col. Timothy Baxter, project manager UAS, said at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference Aug. 17.

System engineering and integration has moved manned-unmanned capabilities such as streaming video into the cockpit of an Apache or Kiowa helicopters, and then the ability to stream that video to an operator on the ground.

The capabilities work toward being more effective with fewer soldiers.

“New capabilities, new ways for us to fight on the battlefield,” Baxter said of the exercise that will take place at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah in September (Defense Daily, May 12).

Timothy Owings, deputy project manager UAS, said MUSIC builds current capability that’s going into the fight now.

MUSIC 2 plans kick off shortly after MUSIC 1 is completed. “MUSIC 1 is focused almost entirely on interoperability, MUSIC 2 is going to be about mission expansion and doing things more efficiently,” Owings said.

The project office has several goals, including changing the relationship of aircraft operators to aircraft.

“Today you have a two-to-one ratio of operators to aircraft,” he said. There’s an aircraft operator and a mission payload operator.

“The only way to do this is to drastically increase the level of autonomy into the systems,” Owings said. “We would like to get to a service oriented architecture that allows you to basically task the UAS’s to do the mission and then have them communicate with you when they need additional information.”

The goal is to be able to “prioritize and optimize” the commander’s mission set for him. Tools are being developed to do that in an efficient way allowing the commander to mix and match the payload sensors in a way that allows him to exchange information and get an optimal mix–whether its signals intelligence, electro-optical data, moving target information, all of it comes together in a program called Fuse.

Having enough people is perhaps the single largest challenge, Owings said. “We simply can’t get enough soldiers at the current rate to keep expanding at the rate that we’re going at.”  

In theater, the UAS work is done using government and contractors but it’s not sustainable in the long run, he said.

The UAS office wants to decrease the man-hours needed to maintain the aircraft and find ways for an operator to control more than one aircraft.

The office is looking at greater endurance, greater reliability, a combination of condition based maintenance that would mean only changing out products when they are on the verge of failure, and making maintenance more efficient and less tolerant of failures, he said.

Additionally there’s a push to increase the utility of each platform that flies. Increasingly, Owing said, particularly in Afghanistan, electro-optical infrared missions have gone to the Puma class of vehicles, because there are so many of them there. Meanwhile, the larger platforms are focused on carrying multi-intelligence payloads.

Thus, the drive to increase the efficiency of mission support, collecting more information with fewer assets, Owings said.

Wide area surveillance is a key enabler here, he said, to be able to look at a 4 kilometer by 4 kilometer wide swath, moving eventually to a 6 kilometer by 6 kilometer area. To be able to pull high fidelity images from that wide swath from a single platform is very powerful. And, being able to push that information to more users, what the office calls “ISR as a commodity product,” drives down the cost of receive node.

“So you get down to cost numbers that approach a smart-phone-type application,” Owings said.  

Then, the office looks at UAS as a UAS as a federated information source not a singular information strand, he said. That means providing the tools so soldiers have all the information and video on the network, regardless of the payload and platform.

Lars Ericcson, senior scientist/chief technical architect, Project Office UAS, said they’re working on the Federated Universal Synchronization Engine (FUSE). This is an incremental acquisition and a transition to the Universal Ground Control Station.

FUSE is a way to help soldiers see beyond their particular payload and be more efficient and effective and have more insight into the entire collection enterprise. FUSE uses open architecture, the networks that are available and standard based interfaces, and allows the soldier to see the collection efforts going on around him and be informed by it, he said. This allows him to develop the situation, decide what he needs to do for his unit and gives him tools so he could, for example, set up tripwires or watch boxes on areas of interest.

That leads to network based payload controls. An outgrowth of the interoperability of MUSIC is that the office has moved to “an internet protocol centered approach with the payloads and the aircraft” Ericcson said. Thus it is possible to allow for the “delegation of payload controls from platforms to other entities that are on the network, maintaining security and prioritization and ownership.”

“We have to make do with the quantities we have per platform, per spectrum, per payload,” Ericcson said. “We have to prioritize and optimize and ensure that payload is doing something productive every second its flying.”