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Multiple UAVs fly into action, integrate battle space

During the Forward Look series of experiments, U.S. Joint Forces Command will continue to examine how to better integrate the wealth of unmanned aerial vehicle capabilities available to joint warfighters.

By JO2 Jessica Benigni
USJFCOM Public Affairs

(NORFOLK, Va. -- May 5, 2004) - Over the next several months, U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) will conduct a series of experiments focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the future of joint warfighting.

"What we're trying to do with our series of Forward Look experiments is examine the synchronization and synergy from coordinated operations from different types of UAVs," said Frank Roberts, USJFCOM's Joint Operational Test Bed System (JOTBS) director.

According to Roberts, JOTBS works as a system of systems brought together to coordinate UAVs, to include a variety of components used in experiment activities for the year. JOTBS developers integrated four different UAVs to experiment with the synchronized coordinated operation of them.

"We're working with four UAVs to examine the architectural implications of how to command and control those UAVs and how to receive and disseminate the essential products from them. We're finding what the procedural and technical implications are associated with trying to manage and coordinate the activities of those UAVs," said Roberts.

The four types of UAVs include the endurance-type Predator, the tactical Shadow, and smaller UAVs, Scan Eagle and Silver Fox. The categorization of each different UAV describes its performance characteristics and operating environment.

"Predator is an endurance-type UAV that operates at medium altitude, 15,000 to 20,000 feet and can stay airborne for more than 24 hours. Shadow is a tactical UAV that operates below 10,000 feet and in the neighborhood of five to six hour's maximum in the air. Scan Eagle and Silver Fox are such small UAVs that essentially one person can pick it up and carry it around. They are very light, about 50 pounds or so, and they operate in the 2,000-foot regime or lower and are able to stay up for maybe an hour or two," said Roberts.

According to Roberts, integration begins with asking, "how do you move a small UAV up to support more tactical operations, and how do you take an endurance UAV and coordinate its operation such that it would support the smaller unit level requirements."

It's a truly joint look at how you would take capabilities that currently are operated in an organic fashion, said Roberts.

"By organic I mean, if the Air Force brings the UAV, the Air Force operates it and if the Army brings the UAV the Army operates it. This is looking at cross-echelons of warfare that would increase the flexibility and utility of UAVs across the battle space to all levels of war fighters," he said.

USJFCOM's role in JOTBS allows the military to look at joint aspects of each UAV and determine their military value.

"The real significance that we're seeing is that we are able to take the different products coming out of these UAVs and convert them to a common format. By doing some manipulation of the products we're able to significantly reduce the bandwidth requirements and share the information among all the UAV locations and with everybody we can put into the network. Therefore, all UAV information would be available to any war fighter that plugged into that network anywhere," said Roberts.

With USJFCOM's focus on net-centric operations and total integration of the different branches of the military to transform the battle space for the better and to succeed in conflict situations, JOTBS represents a substantial step forward, according to Roberts.

"This is a first step toward the net-centric operation of UAVs and the integration of their sensor products," said Roberts.