Army Eyes Mixed UAV, Pilot Formations

Army Eyes Mixed UAV, Pilot Formations

A recent study testing the effectiveness of combining manned and unmanned armed reconnaissance helicopters found that flying them together dramatically improved the ability of the Army to find and kill battlefield targets.

The study, done as part of the service’s unmanned aerial systems roadmap, found that manned systems located 70 percent of targets. Combining manned helicopters and unmanned aerial systems (Shadows, for the purposes of the study) led to a sharp increase to 90 percent of targets found and, presumably, killed. That’s the word from Col. Chris Carlile, who is leading the effort to build the Army’s UAS roadmap. The roadmap will make recommendations out to 2035, with a five year recommendation followed by one for each of the next decades.

Carlile said one of the sparks for increased effectiveness was the ability of a Shadow UAV to fly point, say, 10 kilometers ahead of the squadron and cue the piloted Kiowas to take out the enemy before the helicopters were spotted.

In the larger picture, this study is all part of the Army’s keen interest in combining manned and unmanned systems operations in the same airspace. Lt. Gen. James Thurman, the service’s G-3, told the AUSA aviation symposium here in Crystal City, Va. that the service was “considering” combining optionally piloted Kiowa Warriors with Shadow UAS units. He said such airspace integration was “paramount” for the service. He hinted that the Quadrennial Defense Review will include a major boost for Army unmanned aviation at least in part because of this.

Thurman also said the Army was “considering” adding a 13th aviation brigade to its ranks. According to several colonels attending the symposium, that would mean an added bill for the service of $4.5 billion to $7 billion.

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Sounds interesting. For the army this paints an interesting possibility for formations. Mixed air squadrons with a manned helicopter operating in conjunction with drones. Where by the drones can be kitted for specialized roles or simply expand the ground that can be covered by that attack ircraft. Imagine the next step of a fleet of drones that circle and cue up attacks for gunships or attack helicopters. It creates a relationship similar to that between artillery and forward spotters.

Looks like the Army is expanding on the Task Force Odin experiment to allow for integrated AV manned solutions with the smaller Shadow.

Apaches are being upgraded with datalinks to allow them to see UAV video on their panel. Future upgrades will allow Apache pilots to operate UAV sensors. flight path, and weapons payload. Task Force Odin is once again at the at the forefront of UAV operations.

Good Afternoon Folks,

Lt. Gen. Thurman is one of the Army’s best, I have attended his briefings and he is most likely the Army best strategic thinker and strategist. UAV’s have a lot of flying to do before the become the vehicle of choice for ground support. Matching the Shadow UAS for ISR with the AOH-58 Kiowa Warrior as a strike element is a good match.

Byron Skinner

IIf that’s the case that helo/uav combos are so effective, I would hope this brings a resurrection of the UCAR program so that it could team up with Longbow Apaches.

Here’s a link for the sadly defunct UCAR program if anyone’s interested:


Imagine a manned attack helo with a UCAR and think of the impact it’d have not just in a COIN environment, but also a big war scenario.

Can older equipment ( such as fly by wire planes in the desert at Davis Monthan) be fitted with the computer box and software to become drones? Seems we have a lot of expendable airframes of one sort or another sitting around that could
be rendered serviceable fairly cheaply.

Good Evening Folks,

To answer Andrew, yes.

One thing of note here is what Greg didn’t mention. Last Fall at White Sands the Army successfully fire from an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior 70mm Hydra (Zuni to us senior citizens) Rockets from the M-260 7 tube launcher, the significance if the is that the Hydras were guided by a semi active laser and software from Elbits Lizard Guidance System. All seven Hydra were fired at max. range of 8Klm. and hit their target with <.5 meter accuracy, at night.

Again as General Thurman knows this is a game changer in Afghanistan. The Shadow finds and marks the target and the AOG-58D Kiowa Warrior destroys it, the only sound is explosions going off.

Colin, believe you may have misunderstood COL Carlisle who may have said the unmanned Sky Warrior (not Kiowa Warrior which is an OH-58D) would fly point for the manned OH-58D, They recently renamed Sky Warrior to Gray Eagle, too, if I’m not mistaken.…an Army version of the Predator MQ-1.

Drake 1 nailed it pretty good. Had not heard anything about optionally piloted OH-58D but have read trade publications referring to optionally piloted AH-6i.

Old F-4 Phantoms have been refurbished as drones for the purpose of target practice for many years now. I am sure it is possible with some other aircraft, but the problem is the cost probably won’t be much less than a manned aircraft. A purpose-built UAV is definitely cheaper.

One thing missed in this story is the state of the OH-58 Kiowa fleet itself. To put it simply numbers have been steadily eroded and the helicopter is no longer in production. The RAH-66 program was canceled, and the ARH-70 ended in disaster, but that doesn’t change the fact that something needs to replace the Kiowas before we start running out of spare parts for them.

Laser guided Hydra rockets have been in the works for awhile, I think DAGR is the current program for these, good to see it is showing some results. The Zuni rocket was a larger 5 inch (127mm) rocket which is still in limited use with the Marine Corp I believe.

I was devastated. The report came on conservative radio talk show and CNN. Stated, our drones were
sending unscrambled video feeds. Working on that issue. I contacted the U.S.A.F.


Thanks for spotting that. I checked with Carlile this morning and he confirmed that the KWs were cued by Shadows. However, he also said they were looking at the idea of using KWs or Apaches as remotely piloted helos. But he said the KWs would probably not be used that way. The story was edited to reflect Carlile’s clarification.


What do you mean? We need some manned observation aircraft that like upgraded OV-10 Boeing pitched?

I don’t doubt that it can be done on a small scale of just a few aircraft for a few squadrons. But to do it on a large scale would be difficult as a large number of aircraft will be needed to cannibalize parts from, though not all parts can be cannibalized even for the same make of aircraft. And even something as simple as a bolt can be specialized and rare. Especially now that parts manufacturers have long since stopped production, and it wouldn’t be profitable for them to re-open production. Even for our currently flying aircraft, there’s been occasions where certain components or hardware are no longer being made.

Robotic Hunter-Killers are right around the corner. And SkyNet is right after that.

think we need to replace the Kiowas, 9 yrs of war has indeed taken its toll, wat is to be the replacement? Sikorsky builds plenty of helo’s, some of which the CG uses. Nice looking machines too..



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