The U.S. Army National Guard is pushing for more aircraft with rescue hoists, civilian-band radios and infrared (IR) sensors to improve its ability to support civil emergency response agencies.
It’s not easy for state Guard units to acquire critical capabilities and products necessary to respond to emergency situations in their states. Each state must prepare for a diverse array of emergencies, from wildfires and flooding to tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes. Procurement efforts are directed by the active Army, which often has different priorities than Army National Guard units throughout U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia.
But this isn’t stopping Guard units from pursuing what they need. The Louisiana National Guard’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Barry Keeling, said the Army National Guard is pushing to get more hoists in state units’ aircraft. In addition to his Louisiana duties, Keeling is chairman of the influential Army Aviation Task Force. That body works with the Guard’s State Aviation Officer Advisory Council, state national guard associations and congressional delegations to lobby to get Guard units the equipment they need.
Funding for equipment and modernization is just one issue for which the National Guard Assn. of the United States (NGAUS) advocates. The association is hosting its 138th General Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, this month.
Rescue hoists are important because, as devices that lift or move people or heavy objects, they are a main lifesaving link for many state residents afflicted by large-scale emergencies. Keeling said having enough hoists impacts the ability of Guard units to support local authorities for missions such as search and rescue in incidents like hurricanes, floods and recovery of people in remote areas and extreme conditions.
While the Army may not have a requirement to have a hoist in every aircraft, Keeling said, he has had some success pushing the Army to install “A kits,” or installment points, on Guard aircraft. If the Army installs “A kits,” then individual guard units can buy hoists and fit the devices on the aircraft themselves.
Last year, at the 137th NGAUS annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, the group put forward a number of resolutions to ensure readiness of Guard aviation units. The resolutions supported procurement of rescue hoist systems for Sikorsky UH/HH-60L and M models, Boeing CH-47Ds and Fs and Airbus Helicopters UH-72As.
Another officer, Lt. Col. Mark Ulvin, said the Army National Guard is trying to procure new radios to better communicate with civil authorities. Ulvin is the state Army Aviation officer for the Oregon Army National Guard. He said there is a requirement coming from the civil side to have interoperable radio frequencies.
His state was among several whose Guard units joined local, county, state, provincial and national agencies, as well as ones from native tribes, from the U.S. and Canada in massive joint emergency-response exercises June 7 to 11 in the Pacific Northwest.
Dubbed Cascadia Rising 2016 in the U.S. and Exercise Coastal Response in Canada, the exercises were built on the assumption that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck 95 mi off the coast of Oregon. Organizers estimated 20,000 people participated in the exercises, which covered responses in a region from Portland, Oregon, to Vancouver, British Columbia, that is home to more than 8 million people.
Ulvin said not being able to communicate on the same frequency as civil authorities makes rescue efforts more difficult because the civil agencies have to join the Guard aircraft on a frequency they have internal to their aircraft. He said the Guard is trying to “marry up” to the P25 radio frequency standard because it is not a military standard radio and generally is not available in Army-procured aircraft.
Keeling agreed that these aircraft civil band radios have been a shortcoming across Army National Guard aircraft. He said the Guard had previous success improving civil band radios on the UH-60A and -60L, only to have the Army introduce the UH-60M.
As the Army is designing new UH-60V, Keeling said the Guard is trying to get the active component to incorporate civil support communications systems as the “Victor” comes off the production line so Guard units don’t have to keep modifying aircraft. The Victor is an Army project to convert UH-60Ls to a digital-cockpit configuration.
Keeling said he feels confident the Army will get a new radio installed on the Victor when it is delivered. He said Army National Guard officials have had several meetings with the UH-60V program manager and industry. Although he feels confident, Keeling said, he knows it is ultimately up to the Army to make the decision whether or not to procure the new radios.
Last year’s NGAUS resolutions also covered digital reprogrammable civil support communication radios systems and internal passenger-to-passenger and passenger-to-crew communications capabilities for all Guard aircraft, as well as operations and maintenance sustainment funding.
Keeling said Guard units could also use new IR sensors, specifically ones that can record to remote cloud computing or to physical media that could be transferred to other soldiers. This would allow greater situational awareness.
The Army is eyeing FLIR Talon airborne multi-sensor thermal imaging systems to provide an IR sensor capability. These Talon sensors will be installed on UH-60s and UH-72s. The Talon’s 640-by-480 IR camera provides high-resolution imagery day or night and works in zero ambient light conditions with its laser illuminator. Keeling said these IR systems are used for medevac missions, locating people lost in remote areas and during damage assessments, providing real-time situational awareness.
The U.S. Army plans to replace 7,000 aircraft radios with upgraded versions that improve transmission of voice, video, force tracking and situational awareness data, R&WI sister publication Defense Daily reports.A draft request for proposals for a small airborne networking radio (SANR) was published Aug. 11, detailing the program to replace ARC-201D radios in Boeing AH-64s and CH-47s and Sikorsky UH-60s as well as General Atomics MQ-1C drones. SANR is the leg of the Joint Tactical Radio Systems (JTRS) providing a comm-link between ground forces and aircraft.The Army plans to award a single, five-year base indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract with one five-year option to procure the radios over 10 years. Likely competitors include radio manufacturers already holding JTRS contracts: Harris Corp., Thales Group, General Dynamics and Rockwell Collins. Lockheed Martin is considered a vendor. “The initial five-year option gives the Army an opportunity to make adjustments if technology matures during that time,” said Col. James Ross, the Army’s project manager for tactical radios. “It also allows vendors that aren’t able to meet the Army’s criteria now to compete in the future.”
State-based units are pushing for greater availability of hoists, sensors and radios to help them work better with civil response agencies.By pat hostNebraska Army National Guard units worked with first responders and government agencies during July’s Patriot North exercise.Photo courtesy the U.S. Air National Guard / Senior Master Sgt. David H. LippNeed to KnowGuard requirements for working with civil agencies may not mesh with Regular Army priorities.A lack of interoperable radios is a key shortcoming in coordinating emergency response with civil counterparts.
South Carolina’s Guard trains with civil agencies.Photo courtesy the U.S. Army National Guard / Staff Sgt. Roby Di GiovineIn addition to stateside roles, National Guard units play a critical role in sustaining the Army’s combat capability.Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Ian M. Kummer