By Barry Rosenberg | November 1, 2008
The U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, its technology development and modernization plan, is best known for its terrain-bound vehicles like the Non-Line-of-Sight Canon and the unmanned ground vehicle, as well as the network systems that will transmit data all the way down to the soldier on point.
Less well known are the two UAVs that will collect and transmit Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) data, while integrating into FCS’ set of vehicles, robots and sensors. The unmanned aircraft are the Class I Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) and the Class IV brigade-level vertical takeoff and landing vehicle. Honeywell will build the Class I MAV, while Northrop Grumman is responsible for VTOL vehicle, which, in this case, is Fire Scout.
Both companies are subcontractors to the FCS primes: Boeing and Science Applications International Corp.
UAVs are important to the program. The Army bills FCS as technology development program, providing soldiers with the best equipment and technology available. More specifically, it calls for the establishment of new Brigade Combat Teams, which will give soldiers 14 systems — including unattended tactical and urban ground sensors, Non-Line-of-Sight launch system, eight manned ground vehicles, a common operating environment and a network of unmanned aerial vehicles — connected by a common network. All together, this network promises to enhance situational awareness with more capacity and less latency, and support collateral planning with streaming video, text chat, shared white-boarding and voice communications.
Honeywell’s MAV has been field-tested in Iraq and has flown more than 3,500 test flights over the past three years. It offers 50 minutes of flight endurance and more than 40 knots of airspeed, and operates at altitudes of more than 10,000 feet.
In July, Honeywell teamed with France’s Thales to market the MAV to military organizations in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
"With the MAV the real benefit is that we can hover and stare," said Lt. Col. Win Keller, FCS product manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. "With every other UAV you have to fly in circles and can’t guarantee that you can keep your eyes on the target. The field of view is always changing. With this vehicle we can look under a bridge or inside a window."
The MAV will have both electro optical and infrared (EO/IR) camera capability in a two axis gimbaled sensor pod. It will provide day and night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and allow targets to be acquired and designated. The plan for MAV also includes a laser range finder and laser designator for target ranging and acquisition. "The Class I UAV is being redesigned to add a laser designator," said Keller. "It will be the smallest air vehicle to have a laser designator capability. Because of that capability it has gotten a bit heavier."
The Honeywell MAV that’s now being tested is not actually the Class I UAV that will be part of FCS. This particular air vehicle was developed for DARPA, and is a 17-pound flier designed for soldier experimentation. The actual FCS Class I vehicle will weigh 40-plus pounds, be powered by a heavy fuel engine, and have a gimbaled sensor payload with EO/IR capability. (Miami-based Locust USA is under contract from Honeywell to develop a smaller proof-of-concept heavy fuel engine for the MAV.) The FCS Class I UAV roadmap calls for transitioning from the small Block 0 MAV to the larger vehicle, with larger ducted fan and integrated EO/IR/LD (electro-optical/infrared/laser designator) in late 2009.
The first-generation MAV has undergone a number of live tests this year by soldiers at the Army Evaluation Task Force at Fort Bliss, Texas. "We have three objectives for the MAV testing," said Steven McKnight, program manager of Honeywell’s Class 1 UAV FCS program. "The first is to understand the interaction between the soldier and the MAV system. This will provide the development team with insight into the human factor considerations for the FCS Class I development team for inclusion in the objective system development.
"The second objective is to understand the SFF-A HMS (Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit) radio capabilities, which will provide us with areas to focus our development efforts so we can fully utilize all the capabilities of the radio. And the third objective is to exercise the network from the platform streaming video to the transfer of media to the B-kit network (FCS networked vehicles). This will assist in the early development so that enhancements to the entire system can be incorporated beginning in the design process. Soldier feedback from all of these activities will enhance the design and operational concepts for the SDD (System Development and Demonstration) Class I UAV."
Soldiers at Fort Bliss have already identified a number of improvements they’d like to see in the MAV, according to Douglas Jaspering, Boeing’s acting program manager for the FCS UAV integrated product team. The wish list includes an electric fuel pump and a self starter. Actual live testing has been the most satisfying for the FCS Class I UAV team.
"Between Doug and I we have an incredible work force," said Keller. "This is not easy stuff we’re doing, and we’re fortunate to have Honeywell on the team with us. This is an exciting time, and very rewarding when you go out to talk to the soldier and see them conducting training with something you’ve been working on for a year."
The FCS Class I MAV integration into the FCS program has been "relatively easy" from the standpoint that Honeywell is producing the FCS Class I system to be used within the confines of the network and the force structure being developed by the Army and the lead systems integrator (LSI) team, said McKnight. "Honeywell is developing the FCS Class I system in a horizontal integration manner with the LSI network, computers and sensor ‘One Team’ partners to ensure that the information provided by the FCS Class I during missions is fully available to the warfighters connected to the network," he said. "By horizontal integration, I mean that the data gathered by the air vehicle will input directly into the network real time. The immediacy of the information gathered by the air vehicle – and its use to the warfighters – means the Class 1 will help ensure troop safety and mission success."
Existing MAV capabilities include hover, stare and surveillance during flight missions over rugged terrain, as well as the transmission of data via the ground station to the network. At the present time, still images are being transferred to the network through an unattended ground system (UGS).
When each system within the network is operational, the data transmitted will be streaming video from the platform to the UGS, converted to still images that can be forwarded through the network to soldiers in a properly equipped vehicle.
"It also works the other way; if a soldier in a Bradley has something he wants to look at he can direct the MAV operator to fly to an area of interest," explained Jaspering, who added that eventually, based on bandwidth availability, the goal is to provide the solider with everything from still images to full-motion video.
The MQ-8B Fire Scout, the FCS Class IV UAV, is based on the Schweizer 333 helicopter, with its primary role being persistent over-the-horizon ISR. The U.S. Navy also is buying Fire Scout to fly off its under-development Littoral Combat Ship. The Army and Navy Fire Scouts are virtually identical down to the airframe, flight controls, drive train and propulsion, with the main difference being that the Navy vehicle will have a Rockwell Collins AN/ARC-210 V/UHF communications system while the Army version will host a Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).
"The Army and Navy programs are cooperative programs; we’re buying our birds from the Navy," said Keller, who said eight Army Fire Scouts were under construction. "Instead of the Navy doing testing in a vacuum and the Army doing testing in a vacuum, we are leveraging as much as we can with the Navy." He mentioned rotor hub testing and transportability testing of the vehicles themselves as two areas in which the Army is not duplicating work already done by the Navy. "The Navy has already conducted 40 flight tests and my test team is tied in with them," said Keller. "We’re getting all the data from their flight expansion testing."
Clearly, though, the Army program has lagged, with the absence of the under-development JTRS partially to blame. Said Jaspering: "With the maturity of Fire Scout, could I field it faster? Yes. Could I field it faster with the integrated radio? No."
As a brigade-level asset, Fire Scout will be the Army’s main airborne payload carrier. It will fly two main payload packages: an EO/IR ball, a laser designator and the Northrop Grumman-developed Airborne Standoff Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS), which is an FCS program designed to make sure ground vehicles and troops have "assured mobility."
"We believe that ASTAMIDS will be an excellent sensor," said Keller. "It is a cornerstone of the sensing suite on the Class IV UAV."
The Army Fire Scout’s second payload package will be a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and ground moving target radar. There’s also plans for tactical SIGINT and the ability to detect chemical and biological agents, and possibly a radiological/nuclear detection system. "SAR and ASTAMIDS are the two packages that drive the configuration," said Jaspering. "The communications relay is the next main package; it’s a big, heavy radio."
ASTAMIDS testing and controlled flight tests are scheduled by the end of this year. The contract award for the SAR was imminent. Preliminary and critical design reviews are planned for the next 18 months.
Next year will also be a year of software and radio integration for Fire Scout. "This is an exciting development program," said Keller. "Just like the Class I UAV, the Class IV vehicle has hover and stare capability. The warfighters are excited to have this capability because it is something they don’t have now."
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