An Apache helicopter, which the Army wants to team with drones to fill the armed scout role. (File photo)
In keeping with the U.S. Army’s new spirit of outreach to industry, the Service wants to know what the private sector can do to better team drones with manned aircraft.
The Army is trying to determine what products, research, operational concepts and mission support exists that could enhance existing manned-unmanned teaming concepts, according to a notice published May 17 on the government’s contracting website.
Manned-unmanned teaming, or MUM-T, has been a focus for the Army since it decided to retire the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter. Instead of developing and fielding a clean-sheet replacement, service leaders decided the AH-64 Apache teamed with RQ-7 Shadow drones could perform the armed scout mission.
An RQ-7 Shadow UAS.
The solicitation also includes technologies that will further efforts to team ground vehicles with robots, as the Army envisions a future where none of its vehicles – ground or air – enter combat before a robotic or autonomous wingman. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has repeatedly said that robotics, autonomous systems and the artificial intelligence that will operate them will cause an epochal change in the character of warfare.
Both the next-generation combat vehicle and future vertical lift development programs are seeking platforms that have innate MUM-T capability.
Now, the Army Science Board is conducting a study on MUM-T to develop insights into critical capability needs, concepts of operations and to further understand the technical, operational and human challenges of seamlessly linking unmanned and manned aircraft.
“MUM-T concepts of interest include those that operate in the ground, air, cyber, electronic warfare (EW) and/or multiple domains,” the solicitation reads. “The MUM-T study team has been asked to postulate and characterize ground and air MUM-T concepts that offer potential solutions to difficult Army warfighting challenges.”
L3 Technologies already is operating under a $97 million contract awarded in December to bolster the teaming of Apaches with the Shadow and General Atomics’ MQ-1C Gray Eagle, which can expand the manned platforms information-gathering capabilities on reconnaissance missions. The aircraft are working toward a level of interoperability (LOI) of 5, which means the manned aircraft has full control of the aircraft from takeoff to landing.
Airbus Helicopters demonstrated that level of teaming in April when it successfully completed tests with its H-145M helicopter and Austrian defense company Schiebel’s S-100 UAS. The tests between the H145 and S-100 is the first MUM-T test for European helicopters to demonstrate LOI 5.
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