Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meeting looks into current and future UAS use, training

By Jacob Boyer
USJFCOM Public Affairs

U.S. Joint Forces Command's (USJFCOM) Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence (JUAS COE) sponsored a three-day meeting to discuss current issues and future priorities for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at the Joint Warfighting Center late last month.

The semi-annual JUAS COE Advisory Council Meeting (ACM)brought together 194 representatives from the services, combatant commands (COCOM), government agencies and six partner nations to discuss what the COE is working on, and what its partners want the center to work on, said Brad Ennen, JUAS COE chief of staff.

"The overall purpose of the advisory council meeting is to push UAS information from a joint perspective out to the COCOMs and services but also pull in information on UAS-related issues from them," he said. "It helps guide our annual business planning efforts. What's important to work on? In a bureaucracy, if you just focus on the internal, you can spend a lot of effort working on things that aren't really important to the customer base, which are the COCOMs and services who represent the warfighting community."

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, JUAS COE director, said the ACM is an opportunity for his organization to find out what is happening in the field of UAS and share it.

"We're really trying to harvest the best practices, the best ideas," said Colt. "This meeting provides a forum to do that." 

Colt said that in the past, the ACM was a general session event. The most recent iteration differs in that participants were divided into four working groups to focus better on operational issues: training, counter-UAS (CUAS), spectrum, and processing, exploitation and dissemination.

"[This allows the subject matter experts] to engage to a deeper degree of resolution," he said. "We'll find out at the end of this if we got there."

The working groups came up with several recommendations in their respective areas, Ennen said:
" Updating motion imagery analyst competency requirements
" Improving spectrum management tools
" Updating spectrum management support analysis guidance for system developers,
" Examining joint training requirements for ground unit intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planners and integrators,
" Developing a CUAS planner's guide and refining CUAS scenarios for concept development and future experimentation

Both Colt and Ennen said training was a major focus of the meeting. Ennen said it has been a big priority for the JUAS COE during the last few years, with the most recent focus being the assessment of UAS integration into predeployment training events.

"Are ground units being deployed into theater really prepared to use the capabilities and information provided by unmanned aircraft systems?" he asked. "They're getting to be fairly plentiful in theaters of operation and you have to make sure people are trained to use these tools once they get over there."

The ACMs are valuable because since many UAS were developed differently from other defense weapons systems, said Army Lt. Col. Daniel Roberts, chief of JUAS COE's Training Branch. Insights that normally would have come during the acquisition cycle are coming as the systems are being used in real-world operations are collected at these meetings.

"Due to urgent operational needs, several unmanned aircraft systems were developed outside the acquisition cycle," he said. "They were built and put into the field. Many didn't go through the normal development process where doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership and education, personnel, and facility elements - which impact system employment - are worked out.. Since we bypassed those elements for several platforms, we've got to somehow go back and capture tactics, techniques and procedures and lessons learned to try and influence follow-on projects in the field."

In addition to U.S. interests, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Spain - nations that are working on UAS - sent representatives to the ACM. Canadian Forces Lt. Col. Sam Ness, Canadian joint unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) liaison officer, said Canada is participating to gain insights to aid its relatively new UAS programs.

"We have a nascent UAV capability on the small UAV side with the ScanEagle, as well as a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV, the Heron," he said. "Both of those capabilities are in theater right now supporting the Canadian battle group. We also have a capital acquisition program - the Joint Unmanned Surveillance Targeting and Acquisition System - which will procure an armed MALE UAV capability similar to the MQ-9 [Reaper]."

"Any information or dialogue we can initiate with the U.S. or other coalition partners to make us smarter in the operation and acquisition of UAVs is good," Ness continued. "Why reinvent the wheel when we can learn from other people's experience?"

Ennen said that while basic forms of UAS have been developed since World War II, recent conflicts going back to the Balkans in the mid-1990s have highlighted their perceived usefulness, leading to a need for increased investment and training.

"Sometimes it takes conflict to pull up a capability that's kind of stuck down in the research and development phase to where people start really seeing the value a tool can provide," he said. "Now they can't get enough of them. The basic concepts have been there a long time, but the integration of these tools has been a challenge."

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