UAS use and airspace integration issues were a focus of the 2014 conference. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch writes.
With the US military having deployed more than 11,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) since 2002, one might expect that how the Department of Defense (DoD) and the services would employ such aircraft in the future would be a significant topic for discussion at the 2014 Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)'s Annual Conference and Trade Show, and it was. But the May 12-15 event held in Orlando also covered the gamut of current and future civilian applications for unmanned air, ground, and maritime vehicles as well. Nearly 600 exhibitors showed off everything from the latest mid-sized UAVs to the smallest sensor systems to more than 8,000 attendees.
One key category for discussion was the need for the integration of both military and civilian UAVs into the US National Airspace System (NAS), with both the FAA and NASA outlining their plans and progress toward this goal. The six public entities that the FAA approved in December to develop and test UAS, with a primary focus on the integration issue, were represented on the show's exhibit floor.
Jim Williams, FAA Manager of UAS Integration, told conference attendees that the agency is working with several industries to expedite some limited commercial operations of UAS before FAA integration rules are finalized. However, no small UAS integration rule will be made in 2015, contrary to The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that directed the FAA to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System by that year, he pointed out. Instead, the US Congress has given the agency more time, and an FAA Notice of Public Rule Making (NPRM) may be announced for small UAS integration in November of this year, Williams clarified. Both the DoD and civil industry sources told convention attendees that small UAS are the most important class of such aircraft in the future.
Addressing the AUVSI convention as the opening day keynote speaker, Lt. Gen. Kevin Magnum, Deputy Commanding General and Chief of Staff of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said that being able to operate in the NAS is a critical factor for the service. He also said that one of the most exciting and game-changing aspects of reorganizing Army Aviation is manned-unmanned aircraft teaming (MUM-T) operations that consist of Apache helicopters being networked with a variety of UAS. This operational concept will extend the range of the manned aircraft and together increase their range, situational understanding, lethality and overall effectiveness in providing ground support for soldiers and reconnaissance operations, Magnum said.
In the opening day's afternoon DoD Leadership Panel, Col. Ken Callahan, the Air Force’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Capabilities Division Director, discussed the service’s RPA Vector Plan document released this April. This document is the service’s vision for the next 25 years for an Air Force global RPA force. The Plan calls for faster and longer-range RPAs, with days- long capability integrated with a mobile command and control system, Callahan pointed out.
Col. Keith Hauk, Director of Material for the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, discussed the Army's strategy to provide MUM-T operations. He also said that the Army is looking for UAS with greater autonomy of operations, such as for automated resupply of ground forces, and smaller man-portable UAS for squads, with a push towards micro UAS with longer-range capabilities.
Navy Rear Admiral Mat Winter, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, cited the upcoming future concept of operations (CONOPS) for manned and unmanned helicopters aboard littoral combat ships with the MH-60R Seahawk and the MQ-8B Fire Scout operating together. He also cited the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Strike and Surveillance (UCLASS) system, for which a restricted draft RFP was released April 17. The Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator was the prototype for the UCLASS system. The X-47B completed its first carrier-based arrested landing in July 2013.
During technical sessions on Monday prior to the AUVSI conference official opening on Tuesday, training leads for both the Army and Air Force presented overviews of the latest training methodologies for their respective unmanned aerial vehicle programs. Air Force First Lieutenant Noah Schill, Program Lead for RPA Research at the Warfighter Readiness Research Division for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)'s 711th Human Performance Wing, described an interim prototype RPA simulator developed by the AFRL. This simulator is being employed by the AFRL's Integrated Combat Operations Training-Research Testbed (ICOTT) to evaluate RPA simulation-based training requirements, while actually providing initial training for new RPA pilots, Schill explained.
Major Jack Antedomenico, an MQ-9 Evaluator Pilot with the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, described a new RPA Undergraduate Pilot Training program to certify pilots to fly UAS only. He reported that students graduating from the new training program performed better than students graduating from a traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training program for manned aircraft during an RPA takeoff and landing course. The Air Force has traditionally required that only pilots that have manned aircraft certifications be considered for RPA training and subsequent operation.
Victor Ingurgio, a Research Psychologist for the Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences at Fort Benning, outlined the Institute’s efforts to identify skills that are essential to the service's new MUM-T concept, and to develop the means of assessing the performance of aircrews involved in MUM-T operations.
CAE, promoting its UAS Mission Trainer, was the only industry UAS training provider on the show floor. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was exhibiting to advertise its undergraduate and graduate Unmanned Systems degree programs.