LAS VEGAS: As the Army institutionalizes robotic systems that began as ad hoc expedients for Iraq and Afghanistan, the Chief of Staff wants drones in every combat aviation brigade and every division — even at the price of spreading them thinner across the force.
The Army’s first company of Grey Eagle UAVs, a variant of the Air Force’s Predator, is still on its first deployment to Afghanistan. (Platoon-sized elements of Grey Eagles have been supporting Special Forces in Afghanistan for longer). A second company is flying in the system’s Initial Operating Test & Evaluation, and a third has just started to receive its personnel. But Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has already directed the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to plan a reorganization that would to put a Grey Eagle company in every Army division — without spending more of the service’s diminishing resources.
“Don’t ask for more soldiers, don’t ask for more Grey Eagles,” said TRADOC’s capabilities manager for unmanned air systems, Col. Grant Webb, summing up the chief of staff’s guidance in a talk Tuesday at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference in Las Vegas.
That means spreading the UAVs thinner. The current Grey Eagle company has twelve aircraft, but that will go down to eight or nine. Even so, there will be costs from creating more companies: The Army will probably need more ground control stations and certainly need more hangers at more locations, 11 instead of the seven originally planned. To keep military construction costs down, Webb said the Army was considering building smaller hangers that could only hold half of the reduced-sized company’s aircraft at a time, with the unit keeping its other four Grey Eagles partially disassembled in storage.
While the Grey Eagle becomes the standard drone for Army divisions, the service is integrating its smaller Shadow UAS alongside manned helicopters for the first time in its combat aviation brigades (CABs). The modified organization, called a “Full Spectrum CAB,” gives up eight Kiowa scout choppers to gain eight Shadows. The first such brigade is now undergoing extensive training — with Col. Webb’s office writing the doctrine — and slated to deploy soon.
For its smaller, handheld drones used at battalion level and below — the Raven and the Puma — the Army is starting a new “master trainer” program in October: Instead of units having to send every drone operator to a central training program at Fort Benning, Georgia, the service will save money by creating a cadre of “master trainers” who then go out and instruct the other operators at their units’ home stations.