UAS Implementation at the Platoon Level

 

I greatly appreciate the work that every single individual has put into the UAS programs for our military. But, there is an issue with the implementation of UAS platforms. It’s almost nonexistent at the platoon level.

While deployed, the UAS systems were tasked out to other units in sector. There were simply not enough aircraft to go around which meant we had no eyes on possible IEDs or insurgent activity above ground level.

At minimum, my goal is to facilitate any effort to get rotorcraft UAS with simplified rotor systems or any user friendly UAS platform down to the Infantry platoons and other combat units. For the most part, this has been a personal endeavor. I’m attempting to expand the “view” with regard to UAS implementation in an effort to improve how UAS aircraft are utilized. If the Armed Services and those in the industry will pause and take a look at the “conceptual picture” with regard to implementation of UAS assets, I’m certain that the methods of implementation can be improved upon. Feedback has always been a critical part of fielding new equipment. The same holds true forthe application of new tactics and forms of training. The issue is getting the feedback from the right source. With respect to all of our Senior Officers, Warrant Officers, and NonCommissioned Officers, I do not believe that the above mentioned individuals should be the sole source of feedback. Contractors already make trips to forward areas of operations and it would be good to get them down at least to the FOB level and gather feedback from the Soldiers coming back into the wire from a patrol. To date, I have attempted to test the platform that is outlined in my patent, but it was intended for civil purposes and sport aviation. I will continue to refine the design, but as I’ve stated before, I do not think that my platform is the answer.

A year of reviewing and dwelling on the issue has resulted in my designing and trouble-shooting three more additional UAS concepts that are geared toward the Infantry platoon. UAS systems need to be simplified enough that the lowest ranking Soldier can be taught the correct operation and implementation of the system.

I’m acting as a result from my experiences as an Infantryman and the lack of adequate platoon level UAS support that existed during my tenure in theater. I have 15 years in active duty Army service. I have been deployed to Iraq twice as an Infantryman. While conducting combat patrols, I very much appreciated the use of helicopter and UASair support.

The Army has already attempted to field Platoon level UAS aircraft, yet most platoons still operate without internal UAS for a number of reasons.

Some of the platforms are still in testing. Further, there are Commanders on the line withconcerns about losing a UAS system that was intended to be a “throw away” platform. It even gets to a point where the system is never utilized even though the systems are present within unit inventories.

As a Platoon Sergeant, this situation developed during my second deployment. I had two Soldiers that were Raven trained and certified in my platoon, but we were never allowed to sign for a Raven. There were concerns about the UAS falling into insurgent hands. Some negative feedback at our level has surfaced about the Raven.

Issues with the Raven UAS systems frequently crashing were of concern and then ground elements were sent to find the system. In modern fields of combat where the environment is mostly urban, rotorcraft UAS are most suited for the Platoon and Squad.

Exposed rotor, ducted, or semi-enclosed; it does not matter. Having “eyes” that can loiterabove the heads of Soldiers is vital and most important. Control of such a UAS by the Soldiers on the ground would be a force multiplier.

During my second deployment, there was one incident when our unit had an insurgent responsible for a grenade attack contained within a radius of a few city blocks. We had fixed wing UAS orbiting and the operator had reported that he had eyes on the insurgent on the roof top of a building within our cordon.

The UAS operator was stationed on the FOB (Forward Operating Base) and at one point became distracted and lost visual contact with the insurgent. No clear reason for the loss in contact could be given. The operator could not even tell us if the insurgent jumped to another roof top or went back into the building that he had been occupying.

UAS systems and respective operators need to be organic within the elements of mounted and dismounted patrols. Prior to patrols, there would not be a need to establish contact with UAS units not assigned to that platoon within the Brigade foot print except for high altitude fixed wing UAS or other armed UAS. This would reduce the time required for patrol preparation. UAS operators would be familiar with the personnel, having been assigned to the unit and operating with that platoon during predeployment training and throughout the duration of the deployment.

UAS systems organic to each unit can augment individual platoons during routine patrol activities such as Traffic Control Points (TCPs) or Flash Traffic Control Zones (TCZs).

Static TCPs provide nothing more than an opportunity for a precision small arms or suicide car bomb attacks. The addition of an internal UAS system may provide earlier warning for stationary dismounted patrols with regard to vehicles that appear outside the normal pattern and daily routine of the populous. Route clearance has been an issue that every Infantry platoon must deal with. Army Engineers are often assigned to execute the duty of route clearance, but during the time that elapses after the route cleared, IEDs can still be emplaced.

Infantry platoons usually end up clearing their own routes and that usually consists of patrolling until an IED is spotted or a vehicle is hit with an IED attack. Route clearance for patrols would be easily executed by the platoon conducting the patrol.

There would be no need to wait for engineer assets or available aircraft of fixed wing UAS.

Platoon level UAS operators would be Infantrymen and other combat arms that can be trained to operate UAS systems on site and away from the distractions of an office based UAS area.

Being on site within a platoon, the operator would have a clear understanding of just how important their imagery would be forthe ground elements. Failure to gain critical real time information and imagery would affect the UAS operator as much as the other ground elements because the operator is on site, organic with the element. Mission success could rely heavily onthe intelligence provided by that UAS. When operating on site the operator is forced to take their portion of any mission more seriously, as he or she is directly involved in the current situation. The duties of a UAS operator do not become a “check the block” daily job. UAS systems with simplified control should allow flight skills to be more easily attained and retention of such skills should be simple to maintain depending on the UAS platform.

Light UAS systems or Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) can be a valuable asset to the platoon and squad during operations.

However, if the system requires extensive cost to procure, line Commanders may still be reluctant to issue the system for fear of losing the “property”. When Commanders are concerned about losing throw away UAS systems, like the Raven, how can any unit expect anything different with more expensive UAS systems? They will follow this same trend. How do we correct this?

Two approaches can be considered. First, from top to bottom it needs to be made clear to every Commander and Leader that loss of a UAS system during operations should be acceptable if the intelligence gained prior to the UAS failure provided a tactical advantage for ground elements. If this approach does not sit well with the leaders in the upper echelon, then a second approach needs to be attempted; UAS platforms need to be fabricated in a less expensive manner, allowing the platform to be truly “throw away”. Regardless of which approach is applied, one important concern will be brought to light; loss of intelligence hardware if the system should fall into enemy hands.

Considerations for any FLIR or optical system need to be addressed. The worst incident that could develop against our ground elements is an insurgent force with a modified FLIR system salvaged from any UAS wreckage and utilized against

Coalition Forces.

The T Hawk MAV has been dubbed a “back pack” UAS system. From our perspective, it may not be a back pack UAS system. Individual soldiers carry up to 70 pounds of body armour,

RQ 16A Tarantula Hawk

individual equipment, grenades and basic load of ammunition. That’s without a rucksack or assault pack. This MAV will need to be kept on a vehicle until it is utilized. The weight of the system, however, does not void the importance of its application. It’s testing started in 2005 or 2006 and we still do not have this system at the line across the board. Further, the price tag for this system still may sway leaders from using it to the fullest extent for which it was intended. Similar flat twin power plants can run up to $1000.00 alone.

Conceptual view of any battle space can only be gained by UAS or manned aircraft. When our Battalion was in Mosul, there was rarely an issue with air support, but often the OH-58 crews were tasked out to a point where they could not provide air support for everyone outside the wire. When they were available, they were not afraid to get right down “in the weeds” with the rest of us. They flew everywhere that we patrolled. When our

Brigade was extended and sent to Baghdad, the air support was scarce. The Apache pilots were uneasy about providing air support in some areas. They would not fly into some areas that we still had to patrol. On one occasion, our Battalion Mortar platoon was on patrol in North Baghdad and one of their Strykers was hit by an Explosive Formed Projectile IED (EFP). Subsequent small arms fire followed the IED attack. Two Apache crews flew over the patrol and kept going, flying out of the area and not providing support for the ground elements that tried to establish communications with the aircraft, but could not.

The Aviation unit in that sector had lost one of their Apache crews when that aircraft was shot down. This occurred just prior to the 172 SBCT arriving in Baghdad, augmenting the 4thInfantry Division.

Every Soldier in the US Army needs to understand that their lives will be at risk. It’s the nature of our profession.

We as Infantrymen need to accept the reality that there will always be a possibility that we could lose our lives during the execution of missions. Likewise, Army Aviators must accept this reality when they support us. Most of them do accept this reality as seen in the OH-58 crews that supported us. But, ifone crew fails to fly into our battle space and support us during any incident where we are actively engaged by the enemy, what is the point of having armed rotary winged aircraft? This was not the last time that we had air support available and did not receive it. Perhaps their orders came from higher. This is not “Infantry against Aviation”. It’s one effort. One cannot function as efficiently without the other.The conceptual view of the battle space is critical to units outside the wire most especially when the local populous is rioting. In 2006, our Company was temporarily assigned to Rustamiyah that was controlled by the units occupying FOB Falcon. Falcon had been hit extensively with indirect fire and portions of the ammunition storage area detonated and were destroyed. We assisted with the security of their battle space and conducted patrols while their units made needed repairs to fortifications and the FOB infrastructure.

Our Company received a mission to acquire an HVT (High Value Target). While at the residence of the HVT, we discovered that the HVT was not there, but his Father was present. It was decided that we should securethe Father for questioning. He was not detained with regard to the utilization of flex cuffs. The family was not cooperative, even after they were assured that the Father would be returned safely later that day or the following day.

An unknown cleric announced over the Mosque loud speakers that the American Soldiers had abducted someone and killed a few children, all of which was untrue. A riot developed and a few hundred Local Nationals soon became a few thousand angry Local Nationals.

The Apache crews flying in the area only orbited up and down theTigris River. They did not fly over our respective positions to provide the much needed conceptual view of the battle space.

A couple of Air Force fast movers were able to provide flares dropped at a low level. My platoon, one other platoon and an element of MPs were attacked with rocks, debris, and small arms fire. Though not accurate, the small arms fire came from the crowd, but we could not engage because the insurgents were using the angry, unarmed civilians to conceal their positions. We could only engage with non-lethal 12 gauge projectiles for the rock throwing Local Nationals.

One of the sniper teams of the 101stAirborne Division were able to engage a few armed insurgents as they over watched the area and took directives from our Company Commander. One newly built Iraqi Police station was damaged, an Iraqi Police technical truck was burned and one Iraqi Policeman was killed. Iraqi Police Station. Riots in Rustamiyah, Iraq 2006

Riots in Rustamiyah, Iraq 2006.

Urban terrain provides difficult airspace that UAS systems must operate in at low levels. There are numerous obstacles that UAS systems must maneuver around. Streets and roof tops are often congested with poorly arrayed electrical wiring and satellite antennas. Electrical wiring can often be “web like”.

Such obstacles can only be negotiated with VTOL, MAV, or rotorcraft UAS platforms.

City of Old Baqubah. Diyala Province
Iraq City of Mosul. Ninevah Province, Iraq 2006

Fixed wing UAS systems can only provide low altitude images that are higher than trees and other urban obstacles. Rotorcraft UAS can loiter in stationary positions, peering into narrow alleys and side streets.Narrow Alley. Baghdad, Iraq 2006Route Clearance can be executed at the platoon level.

The Supporting Industry:

There are a number of companies within the UAS industry that have additional technology and innovation to provide light weight UAS systems for the Infantry Platoon and Squad. Systems that can truly be “throw away”. Of those mentioned in this outline, none have been promised any contract or business. Their information was gathered for informative purposes. Further business inquiries or arrangements will be at the discretion of the respective Army and DOD acquisition entities.   

In conclusion, we are a Nation that has been involved in continuous conflict and operations since 2001. Enough time has passed for UAS platforms to be designed, tested, fielded, and

implemented down to the lowest level. To date, UAS systems are still not implemented at this level across the Army as a whole.

Fear of losing a UAS should never outweigh the tactical advantage over any insurgency or the preservation of life. Cost should never be a consideration when those lives also include those of our Soldiers. Thank you for your time.