Two Army programs develop technology and tactics to network helicopters and UAVs in Manned/UnManned teams.
The U.S. Army believes Manned/UnManned (MUM) teams can enhance the survivability and effectiveness of battlefield helicopters. Planners envision an Apache co-pilot gunner, protected by distance and defilade, studying images from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) braving enemy defenses.
As the Apache crewmember zooms the UAV sensors in on a moving, high-value target, the digital picture and target location appear on a command console aboard a Black Hawk flying even farther to the rear.
An Army airborne battle commander decides the target is worthwhile. His strike order through an Air Force J-STARS tasks a Navy Super Hornet, and a guided bomb from the high-flying jet seeks a laser spot designated by the UAV. The Apache gunner watches the impact, assesses battle damage, reports to the commander and returns the UAV to its search.
In the simplest MUM scenarios, unmanned scouts press close to the enemy to identify and designate targets for Apaches to shoot from afar. "Coalition forces need positive identification," explains contract analyst Jim Delashaw at the Future Developments Division within the Army Aviation Center Directorate of Combat Developments. "If you can let the remote sensor platform get in closer and do the positive identification, it allows you to take advantage of the full range of your standoff weapons."
The Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Va. has two programs underway to develop MUM technology and tactics. The Airborne Manned/Unmanned System Technology (AMUST) effort again gives an AH-64D Apache crew control of an RQ-5A Hunter Tactical UAV in the first half of 2005. The Hunter Standoff Killer Team (HSKT) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration networks the Apache, Hunter, and Army Airborne Command and Control System (A2C2S) Black Hawk in an operational unit for a Joint Military Utility Assessment in fiscal 2005 and an Extended User Evaluation that stretches through fiscal 2006.
AMUST is an Army Science and Technology Objective. It integrates Level 4 UAV control in the Boeing Longbow Apache. (Level 4 automates all functions except takeoff and landing.) AMUST also introduces cognitive decision aids that lessen the UAV workload on busy aviators. The hunter killer team "leverages that technology with others to provide a warfighting capability," said Technology Demonstration technical manager Lt. Col. Rod Johnston.
Scouts and Shooters
Hunter Killer Standoff Team demonstrations and user feedback may ultimately give Apache and A2C2S crews control over different UAVs using the Department of Defense-standard Tactical Common Data Link. The Army already flies Hunter and Shadow TUAVs and will field FireScout helicopters and extended range, multi-purpose air vehicles according to a new service roadmap expected next year. The sophisticated, stealthy, highly autonomous Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR) may join in collaborative attacks with manned helicopters around 2012.
Army simulation studies indicated MUM teams could improve situational awareness in the battlespace and increase the survivability of attack helicopters. The Air Maneuver Battle Laboratory (now the Future Developments Division) at Fort Rucker modeled the synergy of helicopters and UAVs in a series of Concept Experimentation Programs from 1996 to 2000. Despite generally positive findings, the experiments showed the MUM team needed Level 4 Control and Cognitive Decision Aids to help busy aircrew manage unmanned teammates. "Otherwise, you're just creating additional workload for guys who are already 100% task-saturated," says Mr. Delashaw.
Fort Rucker continues to use its advanced concept research tool to simulate the AH-64D Longbow Apache in MUM scenarios and will soon use the reconfigurable simulator to emulate the command-and-control Black Hawk. Contract analyst Mike Halsey explains, "Our intent is to try to walk through in simulation the operational capabilities brought forward with HSKT."
AMUST has two phases. AMUST Baseline flights in 2000 and 2001 showed an Apache with prototype hardware could exercise Level 4 control over a UAV. The AMUST-D Advanced Concept Technical Demonstrator planned for the first half of 2005 repackages the same capability in near-production form and introduces Warfighter Associate Cognitive Decision Aids. An attack-by-fire algorithm, for example, automatically determines the three best battle positions for the Apache based on information from the UAV. "You can actually use the UAV to recon your recon point," said Boeing AMUST Program Manager Jim Roos.
The Hunter TUAV made by Northrop Grumman (originally TRW) partnered with IAI has served well in Kosovo, Iraq and elsewhere. It is a division- and corps-level vehicle with range greater than 200 km. and up to 12 hr. endurance. The Hunter cruises at up to 90 kt. and reaches altitudes up to 15,000 ft. with a Tamam MOSP (Multi-mission Optronic Stabilized Payload) television/infrared sensor ball. Until the introduction of the extended-range air vehicles, it remains the Army's only extended range/endurance UAV.
Boeing Mesa received the AMUST integration contract in 1999 and set out to put Level 4 control functions in the AH-64D front cockpit with only modest changes. With Level 4 control, the Apache crewmember was able to command the UAV flight path from one waypoint to the next and slew the sensor ball to ground targets. A single switch on the co-pilot/gunner's grip flipped control from the Apache's own Target Acquisition and Designation Sight (TADS) to the UAV payload. "How you command the flir and TV in the same way you control the UAV sensors," Roos said. "Instead of driving the TADS, you're driving the UAV sensor package around."
The UAV manufacturer modified Hunter control software to interface with the Longbow Apache. In more than 50 hr. of flight testing, the Apache crew was able to receive direct video feed (Level 2 control) at all times. Hunter video appeared on the Apache multipurpose displays, and imagery from the infrared/television payload was simultaneously relayed to ground stations.
The AMUST Baseline helicopter wore C-band datalink antennas on its stub wings. The helicopter crew exercised UAV command links out to 35 km. and received data out to 58 km. Test flights around the Boeing plant in Arizona preceded a Joint Combined Forces Warfighting Experiment at Fort Polk, La. in 2000 and a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in 2001.
AMUST Baseline flights by day and night indicated the MUM team was indeed manageable. Icons on the Apache Tactical Situation Display showed the helicopter crew their own location and that of the UAV. The proof-of-concept effort nevertheless showed a crewmember head-down in a maneuvering helicopter needed help orienting the sensors aboard another moving platform. "We're taking special care to do that well in AMUST-D," notes Advance Concept Technology Manager Keith Arthur at Fort Eustis. "That's one of the things we'll be looking for in feedback from the user in HSKT." The Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate at Moffett Field, Calif. is also doing research in pilot orientation that may help in manned/ unmanned operations.
In AMUST Baseline, UAV control software was hosted in a separate processor installed in the Block I, Lot III AH-64D. "We didn't integrate it into the existing avionics," Roos said. In contrast, AMUST-D integrates UAV control into the Block III, Lot VII Longbow avionics architecture. Lot VII AH-64Ds will be the first with the processing hardware and software necessary to exploit the full capability of the UAV. Roos explains, "All the algorithms are in the display processor. We use the multipurpose displays in the aircraft." Though earlier D-model Apaches might be able to display still images from a UAV, the new Block III open architecture supports streaming video.
For maximum flexibility, the Army also asked Boeing to integrate Northrop Grumman's One System software into the AMUST-D Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator. The common software is designed to enable different platforms to control different UAVs. Boeing Mesa is also conducting AMUST simulator studies in which users fly cooperative attacks with the Apache and the UAV. In flight, the front cockpit controls will also command the UAV. "How the co-pilot takes control is very similar to how you operate the own-ship sensor package and command your own-ship route," Roos said.
Like the AMUST Baseline testbed, the AMUST-D helicopter retains its C-band antennas for backup control. "We've already done C-band. It's an easy thing to do," Arthur said. However, the more productionized test aircraft will introduce the DoD-compliant Tactical Control Data Link in a mast-mounted radome. The data link from L3 Communications provides a high-speed, wideband, digital data link to control the UAV payload and send data back to a recording ground station. The narrow-beam data link antenna in the Longbow-like radome will track the UAV automatically.
AMUST-D plans call for initial tests at the Boeing plant with the Apache in the air and the Hunter on the ground to check the data link. The Apache, Hunter and A2C2S Black Hawk then go to Yuma Proving Grounds for an incremental flight program that culminates with all three aircraft in the air networked over ranges up to 50 km. and UAV altitudes to 10,000 ft. UAV control will be transferred from a ground station to the Apache and the Black Hawk. Fifty hours of flight testing over a month should give the Hunter Standoff Killer Technology program the elements of an advanced concept technology demonstration.
The Hunter Standoff Killer Technology ACTD augments the technology of AMUST-D. Northrop Grumman gives the Hunter a precision targeting package with a state-of-the-art MOSP, including auto-tracking day and night sensors and a laser designator. Azimuth and elevation information from the new payload are more accurate than those from the standard Hunter ball, and an LN250 inertial navigator is supplemented with the Global Positioning System. New "middleware" calculates target positions with high accuracy.
The joint-service LINK XVI datalink aboard the A2C2S Black Hawk provides another essential piece of HSKT. "That's getting the data the UAV collected to the weapons system that's going to attack the target, be it an F-18, Apache or F-15," says Lt. Col. Johnston. Link XVI provides the air task force commander on the Black Hawk with access to a common air operating picture. The Improved Data Modem passes digital data from the AH-64 to the Black Hawk and other IDM-equipped platforms.
Aboard the A2C2S Black Hawk, the cognitive decision aids of the Mobile Commander's Associate manage the MUM team. The Mobile Commander's Associate developed by Lockheed Martin tracks members of the team with their individual fuel states and weapons loads. It detects situations that may put a manned or unmanned team member at risk, and it recommends tactical route plans based on terrain, threats and data link range. Fed from the Link XVI, Tactical Common Data Link and Improved Data Modem, the Mobile Commander's Associate also creates a composite picture of the battlefield from multiple sources, including the Longbow Apache radar plot, UAV sensors and the JSTARS radar.
The A2C2S should be integrated aboard a Sikorsky Black Hawk at Fort Eustis by June, and after initial testing will fly at Yuma Proving Grounds from November 2004 through March 2005. The subsequent HSKT ACTD with the Black Hawk, Apache and Hunter runs from March to September 2005.
The HSKT demonstration leads to a joint military utility assessment and an extended user evaluation with an operational unit to be determined. Favorable results and user recommendations may make manned/ unmanned teams routine. Current plans put AMUST software in AH-64D Block III Longbow Apaches, and software "wrappers" can adapt the Warfighter's Associate to other UAVs.
The Army now has 40 RQ-5A Hunter TUAVs and may receive additional air vehicles to keep the system in service until the arrival of an ERMP UAV. Hunters demonstrated armament capability in 2002 and remain funded in the Army's Program Objective Memorandum through 2011. The Army is also scheduled to complete purchases of the brigade-level RQ-7 Shadow UAV from AAI Corp. in 2005, and though the smaller vehicle has been integrated with TCDL, there are no plans to put the MUM-compatible datalink in the fielded systems.
Beyond the two UAVs already in service, the possibilities for MUM-teams are wide open. The Northrop Grumman RQ-8 FireScout Vertical Takeoff and Landing UAV (VTUAV) is on order for the Army to give the ground-based Future Combat System a Class IV (vehicle launched) UAV for evaluation. The A160 Hummingbird and Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft remain in the realm of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency without production plans. UCAR Phase II currently has Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin industry teams competing for the right to build Phase III demonstrators by the end of 2006. The goal is a survivable, armed UAV able to conduct autonomous or collaborative attacks with simple verbal commands from a human operator in an Apache, A2C2S or ground station.
Much of the manned/unmanned teaming work in HSKT and follow-on efforts will focus on the concept of operations. According to John Sundberg, deputy program manager for the Army's Tactical UAV program office in Huntsville, Ala., "I think we've proven it's not that difficult to communicate between a manned platform and a UAV."
The Directorate of Combat Developments continues to use the ACRT to simulate MUM concepts. Maj. Allen Huber, chief of the experiments branch within the Future Developments Division explains, "As you go from the concept, you write, as part of the concept, the tactics, techniques and procedures you see and use." Simulations are flown by senior Army warrant officers, and company commanders. "It's not a bunch of guys in lab coats writing these things," Huber said.
Tactics, techniques, and procedures developed in HSKT simulations and early user experience will be transferred to the Directorate of Training and Doctrine at Fort Rucker. Halsey said, "As you utilize the system in the field, the more you learn new things that work and don't work. You add to that as part of the doctrine."