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Program Manager Unmanned Aircraft Systems (PM UAS) Looks Ahead

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Speaking to the media on Monday, Colonel Tim Baxter, Program Manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems within the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Aviation, stressed that with the ascendency of the Defense Department’s Pacific-leaning “new air sea battle” [strategy] the Army is working to shift its operational concepts to from the “FOB-centric” operations that the Service has carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade to the expeditionary “mobile-type operations” that will likely characterize its future operations.  Said Colonel Baxter: "Instilling this expeditionary or mobile operations mindset with our UAS is going to be our focus as we develop our strategic plans for the future, and our plans for product improvements across the board."

Colonel Baxter and his PM UAS colleagues reviewed a handful of key UAS programs, striking throughout the modest tone that every program office seems to be taking in the current austere budgetary environment.  Among the PM UAS program update particulars provided:

·          MQ-1C GRAY EAGLE -- The Army has successfully addressed MQ-1C system reliability concerns raised during Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) and is now focused on maturing tactics, techniques and procedures (TTCs), advancing manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capabilities, and on improving Service-wide UAS training and doctrine.  MQ-1C systems are operating in Afghanistan as part of two Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) programs and PM UAS anticipates a full rate production approval for the system in May 2013. Foreign interest for FMS procurement is anticipated.

·          One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) -- PM UAS is today fielding the ROVER 6 version of OSRVT to provide real-time full motion video (FMV) from UAS.  While Lt. Col. James Kennedy, Product Manager for Common Systems Integration, says that the Army is still working to standardize procedures for disseminating MQ-1C FMV and still tweaking training, he says that the Army’s “got a great product now” that will be permanently attached to Army brigades, a change that will enhance system training and MQ-1C interoperability.

·          RQ-7B SHADOW Engine – In an effort to diversify its UAS supplier and subcontractor base while increasing system performance, PM UAS has reviewed twelve proposals to identify five candidate high-reliability engines for its venerable SHADOW Tactical UAS.  The Army intends to downselect to two engine builders and then to a single contractor to commence new engine fielding in 2014.

·          Small UAS (SUAS) – The Army’s recently-awarded Small UAS Products and Parts ID/IQ contract to five firms -- AV, Altavian, Elbit Systems, Innovative Automation Technologies and Lockheed Martin  -- provides PM UAS with a flexible vehicle to support fielded RAVEN and PUMA UAS systems and their payloads.  While PM UAS does not plan to purchase UAS systems beyond RAVEN and PUMA via this contract, it is anticipated that “other government agencies” may use the contracting vehicle to purchase SUAS to meet their unique needs.  An SUAS Capability Production Document (CPD) currently in Army staffing reflects "any additional identified requirements for SUSA capability beyond PUMA."  Related, within the next month or two PM UAS will also be soliciting contractor bids for SUAS Training, Logistics Support & Technical/Program Management.