MUM-T operations on the U.S. Army's UAS roadmap
Manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) operations combine the strengths of each platform to increase situational awareness, allowing the armed forces to conduct operations that include combat support and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Giving pilots in rotary and fixed-wing aircraft the ability to control unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) will definitely be a force multiplier on the battlefield. Through the use of sophisticated data links, manned aircraft can take advantage of UAS ISR payloads to enhance decisionmaking and mission effectiveness.
U.S. Army officials have taken the lead on MUM-T by demonstrating a dual-manned AH-64 Apache connecting and communicating with UAS platforms such as the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) Gray Eagle and Textron Systems’ RQ-7B Shadow.
“The U.S. Army is making MUM-T an established part of its tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) by outfitting its combat aviation brigades (CABs) with Boeing’s AH-64D/E Apache helicopters and Textron Systems RQ-7B Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TUAS),” says Henry Finneral, vice president of Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Textron Systems in Cockeysville, Maryland. “Unmanned systems have proven their capability for missions too ‘dull, dirty, and dangerous’ for manned aviation. Today, users are harnessing these capabilities to extend the reach of their manned platforms as part of MUM-T. The teaming theory allows the man-in-the-loop to cover additional ground, complete additional actions, and communicate information and actions across the space quickly and efficiently.”
By adding the eyes and ears of UAS to their battlefield picture, pilots can grow the reach of their situational awareness and improve safety.
“Unmanned systems extend the breadth of a human system’s comprehension of their surrounding environment,” Finneral says. “This enhanced understanding enables more informed decision quality, which in turn leads to more synchronized, responsive actions. This teaming theory also provides a level of safety for the manned platform. While the Shadow provides the forward scout mission, the soldier remains in a protected, nonhostile area until targets are identified and enemy positions are known.”
Evolving role for UAS platforms
The Army has reached the midterm period on its roadmap for UASs, which defines the scope of UAS development and deployment between 2010 and 2035. The middle portion of the U.S. Army’s UAS roadmap spans from 2016 to 2025; the plan decrees that by the end of this period, UASs should be fully integrated into missions – such as MUM-T operations.
“I have been part of this project since 2001 when I was in the Army. It has been evolving; the customers are continually learning how to use it. The new and upgraded technology will essentially reduce the crew workload in the cockpits. We call it manned-unmanned teaming on the move. We can do things quicker than with premission planning alone,” says Robert J. Johnston, director of business development of the Army Programs at L-3 Communications in Salt Lake City.
The success of initial MUM-T operations will drive innovation for the technology that enables the concept. “As MUM-T starts to grow, everyone wants better user interfaces, and more bandwidth. It’s an evolving capability within the Army and everyone understands what the Gray Eagle does for the Wide Area Security (WAS) mission,” says Chris MacFarland, director of strategic development for Army Programs at GA-ASI in Madison, Alabama. “The interesting part is what we are starting to look at, which is that the Gray Eagle is a significant enabler for the Combined Arms Maneuver (CAM) portion of the Army’s new CAM-WAS operational concept. CAM is what we are looking at for mission growth. We are looking at the broader missions of full-spectrum warfare.”
For MUM-T operations, Textron experts provide their Shadow UAS and are currently fielding an upgraded, all-digital Shadow system known as Version 2 (Figure 1). “Since the U.S. Army began utilizing the Shadow, it has amassed nearly one million flight hours, Finneral says. “The U.S. Army’s program of record is our ‘One System Remote Video Terminal’ (OSRVT). OSRVT began as a tool used by ground operators to receive video from airborne assets. Today, it can be integrated into any helicopter to deliver full-motion video to the pilot.”
Teamwork enabled by common data link
Just as in any team exercise it essential that the teammates communicate with each other, MUM-T operations are no different. The MUM-T communication is enabled by Common Data Link (CDL) technology from L-3 Communications.
“CDL technology is the main thread of interoperability for ISR missions [and] the heart of CDL technology is the waveform and the protocol for communications,” says Aurora Taylor-Rojas, director of systems engineering at L-3 Communications. “CDL is the U.S. military’s main protocol for securing imagery and signals intelligence. Interoperability is essential to the manned/unmanned mission. We not only provide the data link equipment for Apache aircraft, but we also provide the data link equipment for the Shadow UAS and the Gray Eagle UAS.”
In addition to the data link, L-3 was awarded the MUMT-X contract and is “currently in the design and development stage of the program and we are close to finishing the design aspects of the contract,” Taylor-Rojas adds. MUMT-X is based on the MUMT-2 system. Its communications suite includes a ROVER 6 modem (see Figure 2), multiband radio frequency equipment, and a directional antenna capable of relaying multiple video streams back to the command center. MUMT-X increases the Apache aircrews’ situational awareness and combat effectiveness, while keeping the decision-making time at a minimum.
L-3 engineers use various architectures and technology-refresh methods to maintain performance as requirements change and systems evolve. “As technology rapidly changes, we have implemented the solutions on any variety of custom ASIC (application-specific integrated circuits), programmable commercial FPGAs, COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components, and/or a hybrid solution,” Taylor-Rojas says. “The architecture of each system and the different requirements of each mission demand different solutions; we choose a best-of-breed approach to custom technology, existing technology, and COTS components in order to give our customers the best value while always meeting the mission needs.
“This equipment will go on an aircraft, so to reduce the SWaP was really important,” she continues. “That’s a careful balance: how to give our customers more functionality while meeting the SWaP requirements for the aircraft. Here we are able to combine older existing technology, bleeding-edge technology, and COTS technology.”
The U.S. Army will continue to test and evolve current technology to reach its ultimate goal of having UAS be a standard in all aviation operations.
“A lot of this is ready to be fielded but some of it is early on its maturity,” McFarland says. “For example, some swarm technology is early in its maturation; it’s not at a point that we can use it in a combat environment. Some of those are right on the cusp. Reducing manpower requirements for a ground-control station – those kinds of technologies are really close, while others are further away. Part of the dividing line is those that are affected by public-policy requirements. Technology has to be vetted through multiple agencies for use in the National Airspace System (NAS).”
Moving forward, the biggest challenges are “increasing autonomy, reducing workload, and manpower,” he continues. “Those are three key areas coming next. There is a very high pilot workload with MUM-T operations.
“We want to build into the system the autonomy or artificial intelligence (AI) so that it can do the simple tasks itself and the crew only has to act if something is wrong, or a ‘management-by-exception’ system,” McFarland explains. “We are putting the burden on the system to reduce the workload. Current planned and future capability enhancements can potentially provide weapons support, passive and active electronic warfare, signals and intelligence, communications support, and counter-IED (improvised explosive device) detection.”
Regarding communications, McFarland says “we need to get more on the expeditionary side and start working on options to [enable] satellite communications for beyond-line-of-sight cases. There is also emerging technology for using nano-UASs, along with countering other UAS technologies.”
Textron Systems engineers are working on qualification of several new enhancements to the Shadow system. The V2 “will soon be configured with high-definition, full-motion video (FMV) payloads, improved environmental performance, and enhanced reliability features on the data link and propulsion systems,” Finneral says. Other enhancements the company is developing include system survivability and a more powerful power plan, he adds.
“The new enhancements that are currently in qualification will be introduced to the fleet starting in the fall, while the enhancements that are in development will be brought forward in the next several years,” Finneral notes.
Security in the long run
As the MUM-T concept evolves, nothing will be more important than maintaining security.
“The technology is actually not new,” McFarland says. “The technologies that enable interoperability are radios and data links. The issue is that there’s always a need for increased bandwidth, quality, and data security. The biggest challenge is to keep it secure. As we build more capabilities in those areas, we have to be cognizant of those requirements. However, we’ve already had interoperability with systems like Link 16 and some other waveforms. It’s not new, but it’s about making them better and faster, and it’s about keeping it protected.”