U.S. ARMY APACHE
Critical and Essential - UAV as a Wingman
By Carole Thompson
Manned/unmanned teaming with airborne Army combat platforms has been conceptualized, strategized and realized – though with some limitations.
On today’s battlefield a manned attack helicopter can receive imagery from an unmanned aerial platform, but to heighten the value of these assets, manned/unmanned teaming must go farther and do more.
The Apache Block III with Level 4 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) control will take manned/unmanned teaming to a whole new level and the UAV will indeed be a wingman for the pilots in command of the attack helicopter platform.
U.S. Army aviators flying the Apache Block III helicopter will deploy with an enhanced tactical advantage on the battlefield as they communicate with a UAV to receive and transmit real-time imagery and meta-data, control and monitor a UAV's sensor and weapons payload, and direct and control the flight of a UAV. This teaming facilitates the pilots' ability to obtain valuable information transmitted from the UAV to locate, identify and target the enemy and share that information with friendly ground and air forces.
"The tactical capability and operational versatility of the Apache is dramatically enhanced by this network-centric capability," said Mike Burke, Boeing director of Army Rotorcraft Business Development.
After listening to presentations given by LTC Royar, previous commander of the 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Burke recalls LTC Royar said as he talked about his units action in Iraq, "You can't replace human thought with an unmanned vehicle". And agreeing with the LTC that the best results can be realized when manned and unmanned aircraft work together, Burke believes that the use of UAVs to augment and expand the capabilities of the human in ground and air operations has already proven to be of great value to the troops.
Royar's Apaches were equipped with level 2 UAV control capability providing the capacity for exquisite synchronization of air, ground and aviation attack on enemy forces across a large area of operations. "While this level 2 capability is an improvement," said Burke, "there are still limitations. Apache Block III takes manned-unmanned teaming to a new level – Level 4 – full control of the UAV and its sensors except for take off and landing. With direct control and the ability to task the UAV for an area search, reconnaissance, persistent surveillance and targeting – the Apache aviators’ options for fully exploiting the capabilities of a UAV wingman are greatly expanded over the capabilities currently available."