The Army recently completed a full scale military exercise testing its new surveillance and reconnaissance technologies due to equip infantry brigade combat teams, as part of its spin out of technologies from the former Future Combat Systems program. Soldiers from the Army’s Force Development Testing and Experimentation unit ran a number of battalion level exercises that put a new aerial drone, sensors and missiles through a series of battlefield scenarios.
The tests, conducted at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, included the small unmanned aerial vehicle, or the Class I UAV, the unattended ground sensors both urban and tactical, the small unmanned ground vehicle, an early network integration kit, and the non-line of sight launch system, commonly known as the rockets in a box. The Army decided that the new equipment provided a “value added” to soldiers now and “was ready to go,” said Col. Patrick Fetterman, so it decided to accelerate production of the systems.
In the field tests, “the equipment has performed relatively close to what we expected,” he said, “we are moving forward with the operational tests to make an informed decision with regard to purchase of early production items.” The exercises were the precursor to a Limited User Test that will be held in September, Fetterman said, speaking to reporters on a conference call this week.
Playing the opposing force in the battlefield tests was a mixed force of insurgents in pickups as well as soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers, “to replicate a mix of what we might see in either Iraq or Afghanistan all the way from insurgent activity to a conventional force,” said Army Evaluation Task Force commander Col. Randall Lane. A key part of the test was to see how well the sensors were able to pick out the enemy on a complex battlefield populated by civilians.
Soldiers from the Army’s test unit linked the hovering Class I UAV, with a range of 4 kilometers and a flight time of 40 minutes, in conjunction with the NLOS launch system precision missile, in a sensor-to-shooter combination. That combination proved very effective at defeating enemy tanks and APCs, Lane said. The small UAV, used at the company level, was linked to a small laptop sized screen in a networked Humvee to provide ground commanders with live video feed. The small drone is also equipped with a laser range finder that can provide soldiers with target grids.
The unattended ground sensors, actually a suite of sensors, work off of seismic vibrations caused by foot traffic or vehicles and classifies it by type and can then trigger a camera that passes images back to the command post. The urban sensors are a small wall mounted box used by soldiers as they clear rooms of a building that can be left behind and will pick up any movement and send an image to the network.
The range of scenarios included offensive movement to contact, defensive operations in open terrain and cordon and search and raid missions in urban areas, Lane said.