A long and very interesting day today on the Dona Ana Range out at historic White Sands Army Missile Test Range in New Mexico. I had the opportunity to speak with a dozen Soldiers, from the battalion commander level to the team leader about the Army's most high profile modernization program for the brigade combat team -- what most in the biz call "son of FCS."
We saw in action the Block 1 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, urban and tactical unattended ground sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Block 0 and a static display of the Non-Line of Sight Launch System -- all tied into the Humvee packable network integration kit.
I'll roll out some info about each of these over the next couple days, including some video clips I shot during briefings in the tactical operations center and during a cordon and search mission underway as part of an ongoing test of the systems at the range's Adobe Village.
But some preliminary takeaways are noteworthy. By far the two most popular systems were the Class 1 UAV and the SUG-V. From both the Soldier on the ground and the battalion commander in the TOC, all were unanimous about the two drone system's value in the current fight. One said "you can never have too many robots on the battlefield."
One new development for the Class 1 UAV is the ability to control and process imagery from the drone on a toughbook computer right in the field. During the operation at Adobe village, the Soldier controller (who was really spooled up on the system) was able to walk through the operation controlling the UAV buzzing overhead on the computer attached to his body armor. He could radio what he saw to squad leaders and other commanders right there on the objective. He said the range was somewhere in the 10 klik range as long as you have an uninterrupted line of sight.
Likewise the SUG-V is popular, though Joes and their commanders admit, it can be easily defeated with a rock, a blanked or a trip wire placed just out of the ground drone's site. Nevertheless, as battalion commander Lt. Col. Kevin Hendricks said, "if I'd had that on the battlefield in Iraq I would have saved lives."
For reasons of their own (either because it's too complicated to use in the heat of battle at the platoon level, or doesn't deliver the resolution and timeliness for the TOC needs) no one I spoke with was a big fan of the tactical and urban ground sensors. As Hendricks admitted, "a lot of these sensors are giving me yesterday's news" while reitering that with better resolution and the bandwidth to transmit it quickly, these sensors could be increasingly useful on the battlefield.
"You have 3G iPhones right now. ... It's like we're working with a 120K iPhone at this point."
I'll have much more -- and I'll let the Soldiers speak for themselves -- after I've had a chance to edit my hour and a half of video.