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This article was Originally Published on May 01, 2002 in Volume: 1  Issue: 2

Whatever Happened to the FAC?

Over the last decade, U.S. military forces have experienced a dramatic growth in the availability and application of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems.

By Scott R. Gourley

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Over the last decade, military forces have experienced a dramatic growth in the availability and application of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems. Military elements operate multiple UAV platforms with current combat operations highlighting the increasingly important contributions made by these unmanned systems as both intelligence gathering and targeting assets. Moreover, several UAV platforms are further expanding their operational contributions through their use as weapons delivery platforms.

Shadow 200

One of the latest UAV systems to be acquired by U.S. forces is AAI Corp.'s Shadow 200. Awarded the contract for the Army's Tactical UAV  (TUAV) system in December 1999, AAI delivered four "systems" (each system includes three air vehicles with a fourth air vehicle in the maintenance section) under an initial low rate initial production (LRIP) contract.

According to Penn Mullowney, Director of UAV Program Development at AAI, the company received a second LRIP award in February - March 2001 for four additional systems. Deliveries on those systems will begin in June of this year with the first system slated for the Initial Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) at Fort Lewis.

Speaking at the beginning of March, Mullowney said that, "We should have a third LRIP contract awarded in the next week or so and that will be for either five or six systems."

In addition to intelligence gathering, the Shadow 200 TUAV provides battlefield commanders with a sophisticated target acquisition asset.

Mullowney said that, "One of our system requirements is to be able to look at [artillery] fall of shot and give corrections. We send messages into AFATDS [Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System]. We have the ability to mark the fall of shot and give a location on that - we can get it with respect to the target or we can get it as the actual grid coordinates. So we can send it in whatever format they need.

"We did that during the limited user tests," he added. "Some of the things that they did during the limited user tests were oriented toward the operational effectiveness of the system. And one of the things that they did was to fire artillery and mark the rounds."

Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) for the Shadow 200 system will begin at Fort Hood, TX, in April of this year.

Hunter

Pending delivery of the Shadow 200 to the IBCTs at Fort Lewis, those milestone "transformation" units are being supported by TRW's Hunter UAV. The system has over 17,500 flight hours including a myriad successful combat missions flown over Kosovo.

In a March 1, 2002, program update on the Hunter UAV program, Lieut. Gen. (Ret.) Otto Guenther, vice president and general manager of TRW's Tactical Systems Division, stated that, "Today we build, with another company, the 200 pound-or-better multiple payload UAV called Hunter.  The Hunter has been used, up until now, in a training mode, in a surrogate mode to support experimentation and capabilities up at Fort Lewis, and it has been deployed into Europe on 90-day and 120-day stints for the last three years.

"It has been used at the National Training Center and it has been used at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk," Guenther added. "The Hunter is fully operational and fully capable right now. They are also using Hunter right now to develop different payload capabilities and integration capabilities into that bird: new intel [intelligence] capabilities; new de-icing capabilities; and also comm [communications] payloads. We've also used it as an air relay and it has been used in experimentation to help get fire on targets faster."

Stating that Hunter is "not a competitor at the Global Hawk level," Guenther said that, "The DoD memorandum on UAVs says that the Army needs to have one UAV system. As you know they are building a [Shadow 200] Tactical UAV right now that carries about a 60-pound payload. But the Army still has an organic requirement as we're told for a heavier-payload type UAV and they may put out a requirement for competition for a future UAV for that. Today we believe that they will be pushing to deploy Hunters into the operational environment on an interim basis." 

Situational Understanding vs. Targetable Information

One aspect of UAV operations still being debated by service planners as these diverse system flights and fieldings continue involves the balance between general information gathering and target acquisition/designation.

"What I think our 4th Infantry Division [Digitization Experimentation] experiences tell us, going back to the Division Advanced Warfighting Experiment in 1997, is that there are still two distinct functions for UAVs," said Sam Coffman, at the U.S. Army Field Artillery Center and School at Fort Sill, OK. Coffman currently serves as the deputy director for Fort Sill's recently established Futures Development Integration Center (FDIC).

"We've been talking ad infinitum about whether intelligence preparation of the battlefield, as a process, changes with the 'Objective Force,' he said. "I believe that the consensus is that there is a requirement to use UAVs for situational understanding, awareness and development. There is also a UAV requirement to provide 'targetable information.' In the past, with limited quantities of UAVs - and this has been true for sensors in general - we've had somewhat of a tension over exercising those two related but somewhat discrete functions. 

"What our 4th Infantry Division experience said to us was, when focused by the commander or by one of his assistants, the priority issue tends to work itself out," he added.

"So I guess the answer would be, if we have a 'proliferation' in terms of asset quantities, I think you're going to see this notion of the natural rub between situational development and targeting development go down somewhat because the competition isn't as scarce. But again, at the end of the day, it will to some degree, at places on the battlefield, at certain timers, come back to the age old question of 'What's most important at this time on the battlefield: developing the situation or attacking targets?'  And the commander, with his multi-hatted responsibilities, will have to sort it out when those kinds of competitions arise," Coffman said.

Predator in Afghanistan

Part of the "proliferation" identified by Coffman is evident in an increasing variety of UAV platforms that have been flying in recent U.S. combat operations. One of the most obvious examples of this platform expansion is the reported use of the Predator UAV by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As an Air Force employment example, a recently released "notional scenario" provided by service representatives offers a glimpse of the linkage between the eyes of the Predator UAV and Air Force special operations gunship assets.

Dated January 2002, the unclassified script describes the use of the Predator UAV to gain leverage by providing sensor data directly to shooters, enabling on-the-fly coordination of targets in a dynamic environment.

According to the scripted vignette, "Data collected revealed the presence of an al-Qaida cave complex in the Khowst Province of Afghanistan. This high-priority target was put in the ATO cycle and struck by a variety of weapons systems, with the combination of a Predator and an AC-130 Spectre gunship proving particularly effective. Traditionally, an AC-130 coming into a target area had to spend an extended period of time acquiring targets and positioning itself to fire prior to actually engaging. Its high audible and radar/IR signature left it vulnerable to air defenses during this time. Additionally, its presence alerted enemy forces in the area, allowing them to take cover or disperse."

"The ability of Predator to provide a direct video feed to the AC-130 changes this," the script continues. "During the cave-complex strikes, the Predator's low visible and audible signature allowed it to loiter unnoticed over the target area, sending its data directly to an AC-130. The AC-130, in turn, was able to orbit well away from the target area, developing and keeping situational awareness through monitoring of the Predator video. When targets were identified, the AC-130 was able to come into the area in position and ready to engage, minimizing warning time. The provision of sensor data directly to the shooter compresses the kill chain and ensures maximum effectiveness."

New Sensor Packages

The critical contribution of UAVs in these types of modern combat operations has served to increase the priority being placed on their intelligence and targeting payload capabilities.

As an example, Raytheon Co. revealed on March 6 that their Air Combat & Strike Systems Predator Rapid Reaction Team had successfully delivered three fully integrated Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS) for the Predator UAV. Deliveries were made to U.S. Air Force special operations elements just 90 days after contract award. By comparison, a more typical development and delivery cycle on a "first system" of this nature would normally run 12-16 months.

According to Raytheon representatives, "The Predator, an unmanned surveillance aircraft operated by the Air Force in the war in Afghanistan, carries devices such as the MTS to gather intelligence remotely without risking human life.

Incorporating sophisticated electronics, the MTS sensor gives the Predator a greater capability by providing real time imagery selectable between Infrared (IR) and Day TV and the ability to laser designate the enemy for attack."

Coordination with Manned Aircraft

While offering greatly increased reconnaissance and targeting capabilities on the modern battlefield, the proliferation of multi-service and government agency UAV platforms also presents significant coordination challenges for manned aircraft operating in the same airspace.

In an effort to address these and other challenges before they become tactical employment problems, the U.S. Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) is conducting a range of ongoing UAV experiments. The primary UAV system being used in current AATD experimentation is the SAIC Vigilante.

"Vigilante is a low cost UAV with performance characteristics that allow us to use it as a test bed vehicle," said AATD's Thomas Watson. "I stress 'test bed,' because we're using it to test whatever Army aviation can do with vertical takeoff unmanned aerial vehicles. Right now we're looking at various teaming options of weapons platforms and sensor platforms. We're using it for the Hunter Standoff Killer Technology Demonstration, where an Apache, Comanche or Black Hawk would control Vigilante from the air; send it out ahead of the manned platform for various missions like scouting, surveillance, battle damage assessment, or other missions - to perform those missions without putting a pilot's life at risk.

"We're also looking at putting Hellfire missiles on it," said Watson. "You can hang a Hellfire up underneath it and have a manned platform or another Vigilante designate for the Hellfire - and you can remote launch. The Low Cost Precision Kill 2.75-inch rocket could also be used the same way as the Hellfire, except for lightly armored vehicles so you're not wasting an expensive missile on an easy-to-kill target. We're exploring options with any weapon system you can think of, from miniguns to a sniper-type rifle system."

Although the capabilities have obvious applicability to battlefield observation, current AATD UAV experimentation does not include a digital linkage between the UAV and field artillery assets.

"Right now, with this aircraft, our plans are not to look into the digital side of things," said Chief Warrant Officer Lance Nation. "We want to look at whether we can observe and also take out point targets that we in the aviation community can actually observe. When you get into calling for fire, the person who is on the ground can call for fire based on what he is seeing off the UAV camera image. So you would actually be a remote person who could call for fire."

Nation added that the creation of a digitized call-for-fire linkage would require "a few more boxes that we're not looking at right now. Whether or not we would run the data to the field artillery would be up to the discretion of the commander who is on the field.

"Can we integrate it? Yes we can. But is our plan to digitize that integration? That answer is 'no,' because the person who is on the ground will have to make that decision. What we don't want to do is take an aircraft this size or a UAV this size and start taking the weight from 4,500 pounds to 5,500 pounds because we keep adding and adding things. Then we're taking it out of its initial role as a very lightweight, cost-effective platform," he said.



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