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Surviving DVE: Q&A with Tony Potts 

By By Keith Brown | September 1, 2012
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Col. Tony Potts with the PEO-Aviation flag.

U.S. Army Col. Anthony “Tony” Potts, project manager for Aviation Systems since April 2008, leads a diverse organization with four unique product offices, more than 40 product lines, and some 400 military, government civilians, and contractors with an annual budget exceeding $753 million. Rotor & Wing had an opportunity to sit down with Col. Potts to discuss the Degraded Visual Environment (DVE) project, its positive impacts on the soldier and aviation systems, and the program’s path forward.

Rotor & Wing: You have a fairly large portfolio of programs within your Project Office. Will you briefly describe some of the programs under your purview and how DVE fits within this portfolio of products?  

Col. Potts during an exclusive interview with Rotor & Wing about DVE.

Col. Potts: We’re talking about 50 different product lines. We do horizontal integration across platforms for common systems; that’s our core competency. We generally specialize in communications and navigation and surveillance, which have a lot of similarities to what we’re doing with DVE. The other thing that we do across platforms is mission planning. You’ve got to make the link, in my mind, between mission planning and the degraded visual environment for the ultimate solution. If you take our core competency of horizontal integration across platforms, integration of complex systems in the platforms, and the work we’re already doing with mission planning, with some of the symbology sets, we see DVE as a compliment to some of our programs that we have in Aviation Systems. 

Rotor & Wing:What are the operational conditions that led to the need for DVE capabilities?

An example of DVE in the battlefield.

Col. Potts: The operational conditions that have led to the interest in DVE are combat operations in austere conditions in unimproved environments. The DVE Helicopter Survivability Task Force at OSD is looking at the number of accidents involving particularly rotor wing aircraft, which covers two realms—one is significant loss of life, and the other is significant loss of material. When you talk about Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and some of the other theaters, you’re talking about theaters that generate a lot of dust, sand, and obscurants that have now basically degraded the pilot’s visual environment, his situational awareness, and his reference points to the ground upon landing. Add to that complex, multi-ship operations because of combat, and we’ve had numerous accidents where the pilot loses his visual reference while close to the ground, strikes a landing gear, and rolls the aircraft over resulting in catastrophic loss of the aircraft, and in some cases, catastrophic loss of life. So, the Army has really looked hard at this and said we’ve got to do something about providing a system where our pilots have the greatest advantage in these degraded visual environments.

Rotor & Wing: How did the Army and your team address the OSD study and what was the outcome?

Col. Potts: We received RMD700 that told us to conduct a study, so we went out and we put together a multi-functional working group. We put a lot of subject matter experts, including experienced pilots, and involved the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, and the Aviation Engineering Directorate, and added some program management folks and stakeholders from Fort Rucker. Together, we did an Army study of all of the accidents from 2002 to 2010.

A lot of the presumptive things that came down prior to the Army study boiled down to the assertion that we were having a lot of CFIT [controlled flight into terrain] accidents. The Army study found what we were really having was a significant issue with DVE, and the reason that we made contact with the ground was due to our lack of situational awareness; we had lost our visual reference with the ground. That’s how and where we started. We began to focus more on DVE as the major problem rather than just a CFIT issue. We think that if we can solve DVE, in most cases, we can solve CFIT as well.

Rotor & Wing:Are there off-the-shelf technologies that could address DVE?

Col. Potts: What we’re finding is, holistically, the answer is no. DVE requires a multi-faceted solution to a problem that has no singular commercial off-the-shelf technology today. When you start flying tactical systems into tactical terrain, and when you add the fact that the enemy gets a vote, and that they can put up wire obstacles, dig trenches, and those types of things, there is really no commercial off-the-shelf technology that can put together a DVE solution at present.

Rotor & Wing: What makes up a DVE solution, and what conditions will it mitigate?

Col. Potts: Our DVE working group has said there are basically three legs to the DVE stool; one is symbology and cueing, the second is sensors and synthetic vision, and the third leg is flight handling qualities—having controls that better stabilize the aircraft. Most Apache guys will tell you that if you combine good flight controls with a good set of symbology, you’ll mitigate most of the issues. Well, what if I land on something that I don’t know is there? That’s the piece in the middle where we think you need some type of active sensor that can penetrate the environmental obscurants. That’s why we think it’s a multi-faceted solution that includes symbology, sensors and synthetic vision, and flight control that, collectively, we think will create the right DVE solution.

Rotor & Wing: On the sensor side, is there a detection technology that stands out and why?

Col. Potts: We’re looking at a 94 gigahertz millimeter radar. It’s really good at penetrating dust and obscurants. Given the fact that we have an Operational Needs Statement, and that we’re trying to get something into the field in about 22 months, and given the technology readiness levels of where we’re at, we believe that’s the most promising radar technology for penetrating dust and obscurants that we can use for a near-term DVE solution.

Rotor & Wing: Is there currently an approved requirement or need from the requirements community or Department of the Army?

Col. Potts: We have a validated CENTCOM Operational Needs Statement, and that’s what we’re working the current program from. From a validated requirements perspective, the Aircraft Survivability Initial Capabilities Document has been approved and it contains DVE.

Rotor & Wing: What is the acquisition strategy for DVE? Is there a program of record?

Col. Potts: No, we don’t have a program of record. We are moving towards a Material Development Decision in the first quarter of FY13, and that will start the formal program of record. We’re leveraging Sierra Nevada’s 94 gigahertz millimeter radar technological investment—that was really the one system that gave us the opportunity to really make a near-term impact into the DVE issue. They’ve taken it from a 160-pound system and repackaged it to a 125-pound system. They have a roadmap to get to about a 60-pound system. We want to leverage the lessons learned from the operational needs statement to help technologically inform us of the specifications for the program of record. What we want to do is technologically inform that program of record, and at the same time go forward with our operational needs statement focusing on a UH-60.

Rotor & Wing: How many systems will be acquired?

Col. Potts: For the program of record, we don’t know today. For our limited user assessment and the ONS, the development integration work is being done by Sierra Nevada. We’ll buy five systems, of which three will be installed on aircraft. A lot of the test work is going to be done by AATD. RTC is going to do some of the EMI and EMV work on the system. In the end, we still have to evaluate the value of the system as it comes out. After the first five, our plan is to have an option to procure additional systems, if required.

Rotor & Wing: What’s the end state of the Limited User Assessment and how will the outcome influence future work?

Col. Potts: The end state, obviously, is we’re going to go out and do a limited user assessment. We’re going to have the option to procure additional systems, and we will have a government owned design with a limited AWR for a specific aircraft, in the event that the Army desires to procure more. The other piece is to technologically inform the program of record. Two of the big things we really want is [first] to use this to push the advancement of DVE technologies across all of our OEMs and vendors who are interested and putting money into it. We also want to come out with a limited user assessment from an independent test agency. That will tell us the good and the bad so we can turn around and put that information into our program of record, and into our specification, so that it technologically informs us as to the best path we need to be on based on the maturity of technologies that are available to us.

Rotor & Wing: Are there common DVE requirements within DoD or the Army?

Col. Potts: There are, but different mission profiles dictate potentially different solutions. Obviously, our special operations forces would love a multi-role radar that shows changes in the environment from rehearsal to mission execution. The Navy, obviously, with maritime requirements, has somewhat different mission profiles with limited similarities to ours. All services are looking at some type of requirement for degraded visual environment, but the similarities are few because they are based on differing mission profiles. However, even with the differences in mission profiles between and within the services that may drive us to different solutions, there are important technical similarities. That’s why we’re working with each other, and we’re leveraging our resources and investment dollars to make sure there is a coherent strategy from the S&T funding, all the way through procurement.


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