America's UAV roadmap for the skies
24 August 2012
The US DoD's unmanned aerial systems programme is developing apace, reveals Glenn Rizzi, Deputy TRADOC Capability Manager, UAS at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to DMJ…
In January 2012, the US Congressional Research Service produced an in-depth review of the current position of the Department of Defense's (DoD) procurement, management and deployment of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).1
The report revealed some interesting figures. Although the inventory of vehicles of all types had risen from 167 in 2002 to around 7,500 in 2010, the procurement of UAS still only represents 8% of all military aviation spending, at $3.3bn for FY2010. The report also notes that UAS can no longer be considered a 'poor man's air force' and takes as an example the cost of the Global Hawk programme at $13.9bn – or $211m per vehicle with development costs included.
The report is representative of the increased interest in the direction that the growth of UAS is taking the DoD. With the number of manned aircraft in the inventory decreasing, from 95% in 2005 to 59% in 2010/11, Congress has called for the DoD to submit a 'a roadmap' to clarify the future path of the UAS across the services.
The US Army – which currently has 4,000 UAS in inventory – has responded to the call. In 2010, it published the 'US Army Roadmap for UAS 2010-2035', produced by the US Army UAS Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama.2
Glenn Rizzi, Deputy Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capability Manager for UAS, who was at the forefront of the roadmap's creation explains the plans to DMJ.Could you describe the work being undertaken to coordinate and integrate UAS capabilities across the army and other government agencies? Is there cooperation between the services?
This is a question best answered by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which leads its own UAS taskforce that has become a very mature organisation over the last few years, with definite systems and very good outputs. Joint working groups review everything from commonality and interoperability in our aircraft to our ground control systems and training. We develop joint concepts of operations with all the other services and look at logistics, and also have an airspace user group working to better integrate UAS into American airspace.Is this across the whole of US airspace?
Yes, it is all the services in the DoD and includes other government agencies as well as Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and NASA to name a few. What is the level of cooperation between the services?
Joint concepts of operations are being developed and cover everything from joint UAS and how they all link together on the battlefield to joint cargo carrying, which is a new capability for UAS in the future. The marines have a UAS cargo demonstration in Afghanistan at present that we are following closely. They provide us with situation and progress reports and we talk back and forth about improvements and techniques. So their demonstration work helps us in the studies we are doing here in Alabama at the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence.
Another example concerns a potential future programme: a cooperative study on vertical takeoff UAS with the army, navy, marines and our special operation forces working together. I am the Deputy Study Lead for the Army and we are jointly looking at alternatives for a vertical UAS for the future.Having been largely developed and operated in theatre until now, how far are the air vehicles and systems integrated into a single command structure?
The phrase, 'largely operated in theatre', is not necessarily true for the army. We have defined programmes that require us to develop UAS solutions for other organisations.
From the very beginning, our UAS units are integrated to the command structures, they train with them before they deploy, they deploy with them and when they come home they do all their out of action reviews and reset their equipment at the same time, go on leave and then get ready for the next rotation to go into theatre again. So the command structure is probably one of the hallmarks of how the army and marines differ – all of our UAS units are organic to our ground formations.Is doctrine, leadership and education of army UAS keeping pace with technical developments?
That's a really good question. Training and Doctrine Command is the four-star command in the US Army – our higher headquarters that is responsible for developing doctrine and training of all of our soldiers. We're doing very well with the UAS operators and the units that they are in. They are managing themselves very well.
Where we can hopefully improve among all our users within the US Army is better integration of the operating and training courses. Taking our Officer Corps as an example, when they come of college they have a basic course that they have to attend as lieutenant, which includes some UAS orientation. They then go on to their units and get trained with our organic UAS units, learning how to use them, then to theatre, then they come back and become captains.
After that, their next step is the Captain's Career Course, which features some higher level UAS training, and then there are courses for majors, colonels and so on. It is an area that we could probably do better in, at least in the US Army – developing for officers and non-commissioned officers material to challenge them in their career training courses so they better utilise UAS before they get to their unit and theatre. So it's a learning process for everyone?
Yes, and to an extent that's because developing training programmes and inserting them into these peacetime courses is problematic. We have a limited amount of time in these courses to train a whole host of professional military educational topics. There is no room for manoeuvre in terms of adding more hours, so if a course lasts six months I won't be able to add two or four weeks for any additional UAS material. Time is money and people can't stay in those courses longer than they are already scheduled, so you have to figure out how to fit in this new material.Is the doctrine of the UAS under constant review?
It is. We have an organisation called the Center for Army Lessons Learnt. It continually sends soldiers into theatre to observe operations and report on the things that work well and on what could be improved, information that they then provide to us. They also send their own people over to the theatre to watch and observe operations in progress. We will then work with our Directorate of Training and Doctrine here at the US Army Aviation Centre to update the doctrine manuals. This will usually happen every two or three years. How is the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2010-2035 framing the development of the UAS? Can you provide some background into its formulation and progress?
I was the lead in putting it together, and while I'm proud of it, the document itself isn't what is of importance. The actual roadmap is a way of getting the army collectively together on where we see the future of UAS, discussing what we may be doing in 2035, taking into account budgets, politics and national strategic plans. You have to think that far ahead because major aircraft programmes, either manned or unmanned, have a tendency to take a long time to develop. For example, here at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence we're working on our future vertical lift and our joint vertical lift concepts, which we see being realised in the 2030 timeframe. So it is important that we look ahead 20 years.
With current budgets, we more or less know what we need to do in the near term, so we're pretty specific in the first 10 years of the roadmap. In the following 10 year period we're a little looser. We see improvements probably to the systems that we have and in training. The final block is really futuristic stuff that may or may not come about with advances in technology.Is 10 years ahead practical in terms of development times?
Yes, absolutely. That's one of the reasons why we have concepts and experimentation, and simulation devices; development programmes where nobody gets hurt when you try different things. We've been working with the army and other joint services, figuring out how to advance this capability even more.What impact is the roadmap likely to have on training?
We do talk about training using training devices, soldiers and recruitment within the roadmap. We are currently working with our Program Manager UAS, Training and Doctrine Directorate, and Director of Simulation to identify the next set of training devices for our UAS operators and our maintainers.
These systems are very expensive and people really need to train on the real system, but when we have trouble getting airspace or there's bad weather, we need to have devices that allow us to train individually, to train individual soldiers how to maintain an aircraft or repair it, or train a soldier how to operate a system with other organisations on the battlefield.
Simulation and training are designed to work with the infantry and with army aviation and other forces, and we put them in these exercises and simulations and let them practise and improve their skills, so when they get on the systems we maximise the time the soldiers are in the field using their equipment.
The critical role of the technology is something that we never lose sight of. US Army UAS operators are enlarging the perspective of the ground commander and saving lives.1
Congressional Research Service US Unmanned Aerial Systems, Jeremiah Gertler Specialist in Military Aviation, 3rd January 2012, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R42136.pdf2