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Exercise integrates manned, unmanned aircraft

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The systems on display at the Manned-Unmanned Systems Integration Capabilities, or MUSIC, exercise, which concluded last week at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, are expected to make their way to Afghanistan within the next two years.

The MUSIC exercise was meant to demonstrate interoperability and system integration among multiple Army aviation assets, including both manned aircraft such as the AH-64D Apache helicopter and the OH-58D/F Kiowa Warrior helicopter, and unmanned air vehicles like the Gray Eagle, Hunter, Shadow, and others.

Also demonstrated at the exercise were controllers for the unmanned systems, including the Universal Ground Control Station, the mini-UGCS, and the One System Remote Video Terminal, or OSRVT.

Vehicle control and passing of video information from system to system was a key part of the exercise.

"We demonstrated flawless exchange of video products between the complete unmanned aircraft systems fleet, including all the small unmanned aircraft, plus the larger systems such as Shadow, Hunter, and Gray Eagle," said Tim Owings, deputy project manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Integration between manned vehicles and the unmanned aircraft was also important, Owings said. The Apache block III aircraft demonstrated advancements in interoperability with its ability to control the Gray Eagle; the Apache block II also demonstrated video transmission to the OSRVT via the "Efficient Digital Data Link"; and the Kiowa Warrior demonstrated its ability to re-transmit unmanned aircraft video and metadata to the OSRVT and troops on the ground, via the TCDL link and the Hunter Platform.

"We demonstrated flawless and seamless integration between the unmanned fleet and the manned fleet, primarily Apache Block II and Kiowa Warrior," Owings said.

The exercise also proved multiple vehicles could be controlled by the same controller, and that multiple controllers could direct a single set of sensors on one vehicle.

The Triclops is an MQ-1C Gray Eagle carrying three sensors. Owings said it was demonstrated during the MUSIC exercise that all three sensors could be controlled independently of each other, with three different controllers.

"One particularly poignant way that we showcased the capability [of the OSRVT] is with Triclops, a three-sensor variant of Gray Eagle," Owings said. "We controlled one of the sensors from the OSRVT, we controlled one of the sensors from the M-UGCS, and one from the primary control station. [It's] quite a demonstration of the complete gambit of interoperability, open architecture, and manned/unmanned teaming.

Owings said it's expected systems like the UGCS, the m-UGCS and the OSRVT will be fielded within the next two years -- and part of the plan is for those systems to be in Afghanistan.

For Soldiers, it means a whole new way of doing things. Information about surroundings will come instantly, for use immediately.

"This helps Soldiers get information right now, as opposed to a few hours from now, or maybe days from now," said Lt. Col. James Kennedy, product manager, Common Systems Integration. "That has been the case in the past. The huge situational awareness piece, as well as receiving the information right away, that's key."

Owings said systems like the OSRVT, which control sensor payloads on unmanned aircraft, can provide another layer of security to Soldiers in dangerous situations.

"If he is in a convoy that is under attack and there is a UAS doing some type of route clearance patrol or force protection mission, there is a point-at-me feature in there where he can immediately point the UAS sensor at his location, based on the location of the RVT," Owings said. "The other thing he can do is point it to gain situational awareness of exactly what he wants to see. With the TRICLOPS capability he can control one or multiple sensors simultaneously to inspect different things."

For Soldiers using the mini-UGCS, flying a Raven or Puma unmanned aircraft -- their controller will also be able to control the Triclops payload aboard the Gray Eagle through Digital Data Link. The capability expands their horizon.

"Now, even if he has just a Raven or a Puma capability, he has the capability to see what is flying in the larger class of vehicles as well," Owings said.

The after-effect of the MUSIC exercise was to prove to program managers that what they have been working toward is functional in an operational environment, said Ed Gozdur, deputy project manager, Common Systems Integration.

"It confirmed what I believed all the time," Gozdur said. "That we could in fact do it. This was the first time it came together in a scripted exercise, and scenarios like something you'd see in the field."

Owings said the exercise also pushed them harder, and closed gaps in the development of systems that might have taken longer to close.

"What ends up happening is, that last tactical mile of development becomes the most difficult," Owings said. "So you saw a lot of gaps close the last two and a half months before we actually did the demonstration, that would have probably stretched on truthfully for a year or more, but instead, those things were done."

Owings said he hopes within the next two years a similar exercise can be held, to again demonstrate what Army aviation is working on.

"What we are looking at now is expanding this and to do this every two years, with ever-increasing capability," Owings said. "We are in the processes of defining exactly what we are going to do on this next two-year cycle, but we think it is a fantastic way to showcase information. Plus it acts as a forcing function to get all of our programs aligned, plus the manned systems aligned, and ensure we are staying in lock-step with each other periodically."

Article by C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service