Apache Helicopter Attack Pilots Can Now See 2 Drone Video Feeds at Once

Emerging data links and interfaces enable a single operator to simultaneously control multiple drone feeds

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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

Emerging Army technology now enables drones and helicopters to track, identify and attack targets much more
quickly - by allowing a single operator to simultaneously manage multiple real-time helicopter and drone video feeds at
one time.

Linking real-time ISR, such as drone feeds and helicopter targeting sensors more seamlessly, allows the Army to further expand upon its manned unmanned teaming connectivity.

This technology, which has been operational in combat for several years now, allows attack helicopter pilots to view video feeds from nearby drone from their cockpits. In addition, helicopter crews – such as those flying Kiowas and Apaches in Afghanistan - are able to control both the flight path and sensor payload of the drones.

The current technical effort, aimed at accomplishing expedited synergy, is in development with the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center; the idea is to better enable manned-unmanned teaming to progress to a new level of information sharing and rapid targeting technology.

The technical progress, currently showing promise according to Army developers, results from the integration of new interfaces aimed at advancing sensor-to-shooter time for both drones and helicopter attack missions.

The new system, called Supervisory Controller for Optimal Role Allocation for Cueing of Human Operators (SCORCH), takes technology a step further by giving in-flight helicopter crews an ability to view multiple drone feeds simultaneously, Army officials have explained to Warrior Maven.

"SCORCH is a system consisting of intelligent UAS autonomous behaviors and an advanced user interface that allows a single operator to effectively control up to three UAS simultaneously," Dr. Grant Taylor, Aviation Development Directorate Engineering Research Psychologist, said in an Army report last year.

The most recent operational manned-unmanned teaming technology, called Level 4 LOI (Level of Interoperability 4), has been used with great success in Afghanistan by the 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.

Level 4 LOI MUM-T (manned-unmanned teaming) enables AH-64E Apaches and OH-58 Kiowas to control the flight path and sensor payload of Army Shadow and Gray Eagle drones.

MUM-T uses Tactical Common Data Link Assembly for the AH-64E, providing fully integrated ranges exceeding 50 km.

An Army official working on drone technological development told Warrior “MUM-T Operations are
made possible by the introduction of a standardized interoperability protocol supporting video/data transmissions between ground-manned-unmanned platforms.

This manned-unmanned network allows for the handoff of payload control, receiving and transmitting of real-time streaming video and manned pilots to control unmanned aircraft.”

Army officials have said that the MUM-T data link can retransmit drone or Apache sensor data and targeting systems. This includes an ability to transmit video and metadata from one MUM-T equipped Apache to another.

This same technology can also transmit to ground forces equipped with One Station Remote Video Terminals.

The next phase of MUM-T, called Level 5 LOI, is aimed at allowing helicopter pilots to land drones from the cockpit while in flight. The technology, Army developers say, is still in an early developmental phase.

Army helicopter crews, who have used MUM-T in combat, tell Warrior the combination of the Apache’s lethal weapons and the drone’s sensors allow helicopter crews to find and go after dynamic or fast-moving targets from farther ranges.

For instance, looking at real-time Electro-Optical/Infrared images from drone cameras in the Apache cockpit gives crews an
increased ability to destroy groups of enemy fighters on-the-move in pickup trucks or attack insurgents hiding near a known U.S. Army convoy route.

Army developers said that MUM-T has enabled Apache attack helicopter crews to bring up drone feeds, look through sensors and identify targets up to 60 miles away.

Maintaining drone sensors on targets, which can move and change, gives the Apache crew an opportunity to make adjustments while en route to a target location.

In recent months, Apache pilots in Afghanistan have been flying upgraded AH-64 model helicopters which give the platform increased speed and performance.

In development for many years and now part of the operational force, the AH-64E models use a stronger 701D helicopter engine, composite rotor blades and next-generation communications technology and avionics.

The current D model Longbow Apache is heavier than the original A model helicopter; it carries the Longbow radar and significantly improved targeting and sensing technologies; however, it lacks the transmission-to-power ratio and hard-landing ability of the initial A model.

In total, the Army plans to acquire 690 AH-64Es by 2025. The AH-64E is highly mobile, lethal and can destroy armor, personnel and material targets in obscured battlefield conditions at ranges out to 8-kilometers, an Army statement said.

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Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at National TV networks. He has a Masters in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

--- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor of Warrior Maven, can be reached at krisosborn.ko@gmail.com ---

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