Sunday, January 11, 2009

UAVs, Continual Training Keys to US Army Aviation in the Field

Unmanned aerial vehicles like the Warrior, pictured, are mission essential to Army aviation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Warrior, outfitted with its own weapons system, provides Soldiers situational awareness through communications relay and reconnaissance capabilities. (U.S. Army courtesy photo.)

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2009 -- U.S. Army aviation commanders discussed the importance of continual training and the value of unmanned aerial vehicles in the field at the Association of the United States Army's Aviation Symposium and Exposition Jan. 8.

Col. Daniel Ball, chief of G-3 aviation, United States Armed Forces Command, led a panel discussion on the commander's perspective of Army aviation in the field. Training, both in flight and on the ground, as well as the support of unmanned aerial vehicles are integral to mission success the panelists said.

A great asset for Soldiers in rough terrain is the UAV -- in addition to scouting for enemy targets, it is sometimes used for weather reconnaissance in Afghanistan, said Col. James Richardson, brigade commander, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.

"We've had great success with manned-unmanned teaming," he added. "The Warrior gave great situational awareness."

The Extended-Range Multi-Purpose Warrior is a diesel-powered air vehicle with multiple on-board weapons. It is capable of loitering over enemy territories for 36 hours at altitudes up to 25,000 feet, according to the Army Public Affairs Web site. The Warrior can perform reconnaissance missions, relay communications, and is able to attack targets with its weapons.

Voorhees praises the use of UAVs as "one of the greatest advances" made on the battlefield.

Col. Chandler Sherrell, brigade commander, Task Force 49, United States Army Alaska, believes UAVs are an "incredible asset." The devices are used more and more to scout border areas, he said.

While in theater, UAVs perform counter-improvised explosive device missions in addition to scouting duties, Ball explained. Currently, Apache helicopters are being fitted with "view-it" technology, allowing a live feed from a UAV to be displayed in the cockpit, Ball said.

Though the UAVs are an incredible advance in combat technology, all the panelists agreed that nothing could replace the man-to-man interaction of ground forces and air crews during reconnaissance missions.

"There is no substitute for that," Ball said.

Ball emphasized that the integration of contract field service representatives and Soldiers is vital to maintaining everything at the operational tempo in the field.

Soldiers rely on CFSRs to help them with aircraft maintenance. Being coached by the contractors helped the younger Soldiers better learn how to maintain the vehicles, Richardson said.

"It's the terrain and the weather that will kill you in Afghanistan," Richardson said.

Richardson believes the terrain in Afghanistan is more challenging than in Iraq. High altitude training is key to mission success there, he said, keeping Soldiers alive and alert in the mountains.

Combined arms training is also mission essential, Richardson said.

"I think we thought we were really good at [combined arms combat] when we started," Said. Lt. Col. Van J. Voorhees, commander, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

In order to improve performance in combined arms combat, Soldiers have to understand the capabilities of the weapons systems in play on the battlefield. Voorhees believes the Army has grown tremendously through training in that respect.

"In my opinion, it's the best it has ever been," he said.

(Report by Jacqueline M. Hames.)

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