A recent study testing the effectiveness of combining manned and unmanned armed reconnaissance helicopters found that flying them together dramatically improved the ability of the Army to find and kill battlefield targets.
The study, done as part of the service's unmanned aerial systems roadmap, found that manned systems located 70 percent of targets. Combining manned helicopters and unmanned aerial systems (Shadows, for the purposes of the study) led to a sharp increase to 90 percent of targets found and, presumably, killed. That's the word from Col. Chris Carlile, who is leading the effort to build the Army's UAS roadmap. The roadmap will make recommendations out to 2035, with a five year recommendation followed by one for each of the next decades.
Carlile said one of the sparks for increased effectiveness was the ability of a Shadow UAV to fly point, say, 10 kilometers ahead of the squadron and cue the piloted Kiowas to take out the enemy before the helicopters were spotted.
In the larger picture, this study is all part of the Army's keen interest in combining manned and unmanned systems operations in the same airspace. Lt. Gen. James Thurman, the service’s G-3, told the AUSA aviation symposium here in Crystal City, Va. that the service was "considering" combining optionally piloted Kiowa Warriors with Shadow UAS units. He said such airspace integration was "paramount" for the service. He hinted that the Quadrennial Defense Review will include a major boost for Army unmanned aviation at least in part because of this.
Thurman also said the Army was "considering" adding a 13th aviation brigade to its ranks. According to several colonels attending the symposium, that would mean an added bill for the service of $4.5 billion to $7 billion.