Common ground for unmanned vehicles

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) continue to prove their mettle in the global war on terrorism, and unmanned ground vehicles are poised to play a greater role on battlefields in the future, the Defense Department and the Army are working to integrate the numerous unmanned systems that keep soldiers out of harm's way.

UAVs are being used effectively in Afghanistan and elsewhere for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and also as weapons systems, outfitted with missiles used to destroy small, high-profile targets.

The best part is that a pilot located safely in the continental United States can operate the vehicles as they fly through dangerous territories, said William McCorkle, director of the Army Aviation and Missile Command's research, development and engineering center.

Speaking Feb. 26 here at the Association of the U.S. Army's winter symposium, McCorkle said DOD, along with industry and academia, is developing a joint architecture for unmanned systems (JAUS) designed to provide "commonality" among UAVs and UGVs.

The JAUS will be based on open standards and also will include requirements and simulation models focused on commonality and ensuring affordability, he said.

The integration of UAVs and UGVs is a natural evolution not only because both systems help keep soldiers out of danger, but also because the tools complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.

UAVs see, travel and communicate well, but they can't carry loads or stay airborne for long periods, whereas UGVs can loiter and carry heavy equipment, but they don't see or communicate well, McCorkle said.

All of the military services are developing their own unmanned systems, but they are already collaborating on solutions, including the Army/Air Force team that outfitted a Predator UAV with a Hellfire missile to strike targets in Afghanistan, he said.

Congress mandated in 2000 that at least one in three future Army systems be unmanned. The Army will surpass that mandate by the end of the decade in the first increment of its Future Combat Systems (FCS), said A. Michael Andrews II, the service's deputy assistant secretary for research and technology.

FCS will equip Army vehicles with information and communications systems to give soldiers capabilities for command and control, surveillance and reconnaissance, direct and non-line-of-sight weapons firing, and personnel transport.

"You can turn almost all vehicles unmanned, but you're always going to need manned systems," Andrews said, adding that there will be about a 50-50 split between manned and unmanned systems in the first FCS increment.

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