APACHE-UAV TEAMING: ‘BEST CAPABILITIES OF MAN, MACHINE’
08 May 14. Apache helicopters teamed with Gray Eagle and Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles are a winning combo, according to Col. Thomas von Eschenbach.
Apache AH-64E models, teamed with UAVs are now increasingly performing the armed aerial scout missions, once performed by Kiowa helicopters, and, Eschenbach said, they’re doing a fantastic job.
Eschenbach, who is the capabilities manager, U.S. Army Training and Development Command, unmanned aircraft systems, spoke for a few minutes at the two-day Army Aviation Association of America, or Quad A 2014 Mission Solutions Summit at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, May 5. Then he opened up his “Future Manned/Unmanned Teaming” session for questions and comments from aviators.
One Kiowa Warrior pilot who flew combat missions said Kiowa pilots were “successful despite the platform,” meaning the Kiowa was not the optimal helicopter for the battlefield.
“The enemy let us get that close,” he added.
Kiowa helicopters are being divested from the Army’s inventory under the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative.
Some Kiowa pilots think they’re being replaced by Shadow UAVs. “They’re not,” he said. “Kiowas are being replaced by Apaches.”
ARI has given the aviation community the needed impetus to make Apaches team with UAVs, said Eschenbach, also a former Kiowa pilot, adding “It was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Eschenbach said at one time UAVs fell under the control of military intelligence, but now the Army is moving as many as it can and as rapidly as it can into brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades. The ARI aircraft divestment strategy has freed up the money to make that happen.
The Army is upgrading its Apache fleet to the E models, which are the ones that can be teamed with UAVs because of their higher level of sophistication, he said.
The Army is halfway through fielding MQ-1 Gray Eagles and beginning next year, Eschenbach expects the new M2 Shadows to begin fielding, replacing the Shadow 200 RQ7B Version 2.
Stephen Greene, vice president of business development for Textron Systems’ Unmanned Systems, who was attending Quad A, said the M2 is now in development and doing flight demonstrations for U.S. and allied countries.
The M2 has 80 percent commonality with Shadow 200 now in the inventory, he added, meaning that it will have full compatibility when teamed with Apaches and the older Shadows.
The most significant difference between the two Shadow models is the center fuselage which gives M2 a lot more range and loiter-on-target time, Greene said. The other M2 advantage is a dual payload capable vice single payload that Shadow 200 had.
To sum it up, he said M2 offers “strategic capability at a tactical platform level; so you’re able to incorporate multi-mission capabilities, higher endurance and other benefits into the existing Shadow system.”
Shadow, used at the brigade level, is smaller than Gray Eagle, which is used at division and higher levels. Less size means less range and payload, but lower price as well.
“One of the things that’s happening in the industry is that Moore’s Law is taking hold on the payloads and driving the same capability or better into smaller packages to bring payloads onto air vehicles like this,” Greene said, meaning the Shadow will increasingly be able to deliver video and munition on targets as weight goes down.
The Moore’s Law analogy he used refers to Gordon Moore’s 1965 analysis of computing power doubling every two years. His “law” proved accurate over time as computers got faster and could store more data.
How Teaming Works
Lt. Col. Ed Vedder’s battalion in the 1st Infantry Division was the first to demonstrate teaming between AH-64Es and Gray Eagles. He explained teaming during the session.
While the Apaches have pilots in the cockpit, the UAVs are piloted by Soldiers — usually enlisted — on the ground in universal ground c