Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Article excerpt

Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems support land warfare operations across the spectrum of conflict. Infantry, scout, intelligence, aviation, artillery, maneuver and even medical units benefit from the availability of UAVs. Typical missions include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), battle damage assessment, targeting, persistent stare for continued operations, convoy protection and antiambush (improvised explosive device or IED).

UAV systems put the commander and the combat application first. The Army, unique among the services, builds and fields its UAVs as systems. A UAV system includes aircraft, ground control stations, communications and logistics as a unit set. The various UAV systems maximize common training, hardware configuration, software, communications and logistics. Army UAVs are operated and maintained by enlisted personnel. Through integration and commonality across UAV systems, the Army's use of UAVs is inherently flexible; a commander is able to mix UAVs to fit the mission without sacrificing capability.

The Hunter RQ-5A UAV System, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, is the Army's longest-serving UAV system, having seen action in Operation Iraqi Freedom and four years in Kosovo. The Army has installed, demonstrated or tested 23 different payloads on the Hunter, making it one of the most versatile UAVs in the world. The Hunter air vehicle is a fixed-wing, twin-tail boom aircraft with a dual rudder. The Hunter is capable of 18-hour flight duration with an electro-optic/infrared (EO/ IR) sensor or eight hours with a 250-pound payload. The EO/IR-the main payload for the Hunter-is available in both 280 mm and 770 mm focal lengths. Hunter is the only Department of Defense UAV to use a dual-engine system. The MotoGuzzi gasoline engines are being replaced with three-cylinder commercial JP-8 fuel engines. The Army has three Hunter companies deployed with the XVIII Corps, III Corps and V Corps. A Hunter company consists of six air vehicles, three ground control stations (GCS), associated ground support equipment and vehicles. Forty-eight military personnel and five contractor logistics support (CLS) personnel make up the Hunter company.

A wet center-wing capability has been added to the Hunter air vehicle, extending the base Hunter wing span by approximately 60 inches thus increasing lift, rate of climb and service ceiling from 15,000 feet to 18,000 feet mean sea level. The wet wing is equipped with hard points with the capability to carry 130 pounds each, facilitating Hunter weaponization. When the wet wing is not used to carry weapons, it can be loaded with 110 liters of fuel to increase air vehicle endurance by six hours. Hunter has also demonstrated support to lethal missions by lasing for Hellfire missile engagements and by demonstrating the ability to drop two variants of the brilliant antiarmor (BAT) munition (base and semiactive laser [SAL]).

The Shadow RQ-7A Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System is a DoD acquisition success story. The Army reduced the period for system design and development to full-rate production decision, including a successful initial operational test and evaluation, OSD (Office of the secretary of Defense) test and evaluation report, and joint interoperability certification of the communications in the "one system" ground control station, to just 33 months. The Army's acquisition objective is 83 systems. As of June 2004, TUAV-Shadow platoons exist in the 1st Infantry (Mechanized), 4th Infantry (Mechanized), 1st Cavalry, 82nd Airborne and 2nd Infantry Divisions and two Stryker brigades (2nd Infantry Division and 25th Infantry Division). The Army's deputy chief of staff G-3 has directed that every maneuver brigade in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) will be equipped with the tactical UAV system. The Shadow is manufactured by AAI Inc. …