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March 21, 2014

Guard, Soldiers fly manned, unmanned aircraft, train together

As part of the manned/unmanned teaming field training exercise that brings together Soldiers assigned to the 2-13th Aviation Regiment and Army National Guard members assigned to the 1-285th Armed Reconnaissance Battalion from Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, Apache helicopters are able to communicate with the Shadow RQ-7B unmanned aerial vehicle during different scenarios acted out at Little Outfit Ranch in the San Rafael Valley.

Initial entry training Soldiers assigned to the 2-13th Aviation Regiment here at Fort Huachuca and Army National Guard members assigned to the 1-285th Armed Reconnaissance Battalion from Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, have recently combined their training efforts using a concept known as manned/unmanned teaming, or MUMT, operations.

The MUMT training concept, which began in September, combines the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, and Apache helicopters in a training environment that mimics real-time situations in combat.

One of the primary missions of the 2-13th Aviation Regiment is to train Soldiers in the operation and maintenance of the RQ-7B Shadow and the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, low altitude unmanned aircraft systems. Each month the unit graduates one to three classes of operators, with the final task being a one-week field training exercise.

This final field exercise has a dual purpose of training the students on actual flights in a simulated combat environment as well as other military occupational specialty specific tasks and basic battle drills, according to Capt. Michael Hill, assistant S3, 2-13th Avn. Regt.

The exercise takes place at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Carlisle in the San Rafael Valley, about 45 minutes west of the fort. Role players contracted with the Army act out scenarios similar to a combat environment using simulation weapons and artillery pieces, and occasional live explosions.

Typically, the FTX lasts three to five days depending on the number of platoons in the class and the weather conditions. The first and last day is spent setting up and breaking down the UAV launching site.

Acting as the mission coordinator, Pfc. Colton Jones, 2-13th Aviation Regiment, coordinates unmanned aerial vehicle deployments during a field training exercise, March 10 – 14, as part of the final stages of the Shadow RQ-7B training.

Hill explained that the intent of using UAVs is to be able to look at the ground, identify vehicles, follow their routes, conduct reconnaissance, identify targets and do security for ground convoys, from approximately 15,000 feet in the air.

“Once the UAVs launch, they fly out to [FOB Carlisle] and work through the four scenarios that have been developed by [the role players],” Hill said. “One of the scenarios plays out a convoy ambush on the ground. The UAV is providing security for the convoy on the ground, looking ahead on the route for things that could be potentially hazardous. A truck then approaches the convoy and the UAV operator will alert the convoy. At a certain point on the route, the convoy will be ambushed by role players acting as terrorists using simulated explosions.”

The scenarios were created to reenact things people would actually say and do in a real combat scenario based on the real tactics, techniques and procedures used by insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“This training gives these Soldiers, these operators, a first look at what real life could be, and that’s something that I don’t think you get in most other initial entry training programs,” Hill stated. “That’s why the FTX is so important, because talking on the radio and talking to the ground commanders and being able to say things intelligently is critical for the operators’ success.”

The Apache helicopters are integrated as one of the stations the UAVs communicate with. During each exercise, the 1-285th Armed Reconnaissance Battalion sends one or two Apaches to accompany the scenario training events as an attack weapons team. Their combat role is to provide weapon fire on the ground, if needed, using sensors and thermal imaging systems that allows them to see hot and cold spots in their field of view.

In the example scenario, Apaches provide security by flying around the convoy looking for potential threats. Their presence allows the UAV to continue on the route ahead or survey areas that the Apache may not be able to access.

From front, Pfc. Kris Acevedo, Pvt. Gabriel Brey, Pfc. Christian Cyrus and Pfc. Robert Autrey, initial entry training students assigned to the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, view live video feed from the Shadow RQ-7B and analyze it while communicating the flight operators March 13. During the final phase of their training, this and other tasks performed during the one-week field training exercise, provide them with a simulated real-time experience of what their job entails.

“This manned/unmanned teaming provides a huge expansion for the capabilities of the aviation team, to be able to look around and see what is out there without losing the ability to protect the force that they are assigned to,” Hill said.

Each scenario lasts approximately one hour. The teams will perform two scenarios and then the helicopters will break to refuel. When the Apaches return, the other two scenarios are played out. Operators switch out throughout the day, sometimes in the middle of a scenario, to allow each student an opportunity to train.

“That’s a real life situation too,” Hill said. “You can be at the control situation for four or five hours but it’s the end of your shift, so you have to do a handover with the incoming shift.”

The biggest challenge with any training environment is teaching Soldiers to know what to do in real-time situations. As the war draws down and the military downsizes, many of these trained Soldiers won’t deploy within their first year of graduation.
“These guys won’t get to fly very much and they won’t get to talk to people on the ground. Talking to people on the ground is what makes things happen with UAVs because if you can see something but you can’t tell the guys on the ground what you’re seeing, then you’re almost useless. It’s imperative that they have exposure to what is expected of them, and this FTX gives them that exposure,” Hill explained.

“If we can keep this training going with [the Army National Guard Apache pilots] then not only will it train their pilots to be better at their job, but it will also train their pilots and our operators to work together and understand the capabilities of the different platforms,” continued Hill. “It’s one of the best training experiences in the Army, right here in Arizona.”




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