Army Revamp Portends UAV Acquisition `Explosion’

By | May 1, 2006 | Uncategorized

BY SCOTT NANCE

A reorganization of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) management within the Army is just a sign of an expected "explosion" in Army acquisition and use of the flying drones, according to a spokeswoman at Fort Rucker.

The Army Aviation Warfighting Center (AAWC) assumed control of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion (UASTB) in a ceremony last week, beginning a new phase for the program previously commanded by Company E, 305th Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion, according to a statement issued by Fort Rucker.

Under sunny Arizona skies and cool winds, the UASTB uncased new colors distinguishing themselves officially as a unit of the aviation branch, part of an alignment that began last year when AAWC was named the Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, for the Army, the statement said. The unit now falls under the 1st Aviation Brigade at Fort Rucker.

During the ceremony Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair, AAWC commander, said that the missions for unmanned systems are limitless and the goal is for soldiers to continue to adapt UAS to accomplish their assigned missions in a safer and more efficient manner than ever before.

Employing an unmanned platform instead of a manned asset to execute a mission is safer because no human is placed in harm’s way.

"We will carefully manage the growth of our unmanned aircraft systems, ensuring that we provide realistic, hands-on training aimed at providing the right capability to the right soldier, at the right place and the right time," Sinclair said.

The AAWC will run UAV training at Fort Rucker in Alabama, although initial UAV training itself will continue at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, the spokeswoman said. Fort Huachuca maintains the expertise and airspace for such training, she said. Training in manned/unmanned teaming with UAVs will take place at Fort Rucker, she added.

"But now, instead of those operators wearing MI branch insignia, they’ll be wearing aviation branch insignia," she said.

The Army’s acquisition and use of UAVs is in its infancy but it will soon see an "explosion," the spokeswoman said.

"We expect to triple the amount of them that we use, in the next five years. It’s certainly a growth industry," she said.

Sinclair has said the Army fleet of UAVs could reach 5,000 in five years, the spokeswoman said, from about 400 currently.

She acknowledged UAVs aren’t really new technology.

"We’re just figuring out ways to use it for us now," she said. "It’s has been really helpful already in-theater."

The reorganization is simply an extension of the designation of AAWC as the Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the spokeswoman said.

"It’s just kind of taken us this time to organize and get our stuff together, and this UASTB stand-up-the uncasing of the colors at Fort Huachuca – is kind of that first, monumental step of saying, "Look, the aviation branch is now in charge of these for the Army.’"

In terms of procurement programs, however, the change from the MI branch to the aviation branch should not affect industry, the spokeswoman said.

"It’s really not going to change a lot of how they’ve been doing business, because they work through our program manager’s office up in Huntsville, [Ala.] for acquisition," she said.
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