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‘Unmanned’ drones take too many humans to operate, says top Army aviator

dimsum

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“It’s kind of a paradox that our ‘unmanned’ formations are larger than our manned formations,’” said Maj. Gen. Michael McCurry, a veteran helicopter pilot who now heads the Army aviation “schoolhouse” at Fort Rucker, Ala. “We have Apache [attack helicopter] companies that are just over 30 people and we have Grey Eagle [drone] companies that are 135 people [or more]. How do we make better use of the 135 people in ‘unmanned’ formations?”

 
Interesting
Not surprising though.

If each aircraft (let's say 24h endurance even though most MALE/HALE can go far longer) has 3 crew in the Ground Control Station, that's 3 people who need to be relieved every few hours. If a shift is 2 hours, which is long when you're staring at a computer screen, and you're limited to crew rest rules because you are operating a big hunk of metal in the sky that may or may not have weapons, you are doing that 12 times in a 24h period.

Crew rest rules dictate a min of 8h uninterrupted crew rest, which makes it a max of 16 hours at work (subject to fleet, and the 16 hours is "between leaving and coming back home" - it is not 16 hours "in the seat") so it's not like 2 crews can cover a 24h period with one aircraft. You would need 3 or probably 4 crews per aircraft whenever it's flying. I've been out of the operational world for a little while so the rules may have changed.

Also, if you're doing minimum crew rest (the 8h above), you cannot sustain that indefinitely - there are a max number of days (and it's not very many) that it can be done, then the crew has to have an extended amount of time off. Scheduling aircraft crews and sorties gets very complicated.

Then, you add in the folks doing the in-depth Int analysis, the maintainers, the armourers, etc.

It all adds up to a really big personnel footprint if you have more than a couple of RPAs in a unit.
 



vs Grey Eagle
 

vs Grey Eagle
Different classes of UAS.

Regardless, the UAS class shouldn't override crew rest rules - it doesn't mean that the Army or Navy person can (or should) be controlling it for 12 hours.
 
Different classes of UAS.

Regardless, the UAS class shouldn't override crew rest rules - it doesn't mean that the Army or Navy person can (or should) be controlling it for 12 hours.

Fair - but based on the Ukrainian experience is the larger vehicle suitable for weapons carriage necessary? Or are the eyes more important so that you can get away with a lower UAS class?
 
Fair - but based on the Ukrainian experience is the larger vehicle suitable for weapons carriage necessary? Or are the eyes more important so that you can get away with a lower UAS class?
I'm just guessing here but the altitude and range/endurance would be factors too.

Higher class UAS fly higher, for longer, and can generally go farther. They'd be used for different missions.
 
Fair - but based on the Ukrainian experience is the larger vehicle suitable for weapons carriage necessary? Or are the eyes more important so that you can get away with a lower UAS class?
I thought the ukranians are operating basically small commercial drones and using that for weapons targeting, vice the much larger armed UAS that can operate continuously and carry large payloads.

I think though if they wanted to have some kind of continuously airborne Apache operating around the clock though, they would need a lot more than 30ish people. Not sure if they are including maintainers, but that seems like it would give you one or two helos doing their normal flypro plus maintenance.
 
From what I have seen, Ukraine is operated largely commercial and even retail small drones. Most of those max out at about 30-45 minutes battery life. They don't compare with the complex, high-altitude, long endurance UAVs that the article is talking about.
 
I'm just guessing here but the altitude and range/endurance would be factors too.

Higher class UAS fly higher, for longer, and can generally go farther. They'd be used for different missions.

You're guessing hunh? Another person who knows whereof they speak. :LOL:

What I'm left wondering is whether in a hot environment it is better to have a large number of small craft with small footprints rather than a big craft with a big footprint. Unlike the requirement for craft operating in a glacially slow environment.
 
From what I have seen, Ukraine is operated largely commercial and even retail small drones. Most of those max out at about 30-45 minutes battery life. They don't compare with the complex, high-altitude, long endurance UAVs that the article is talking about.

I think that is kind of the point. The Grey Eagle is a scaled back version of the Predator/Sky Guardian 1600 kg vs 5800 kg. The US Army opted for the Grey Eagle to support their Divisional Combat Aviation Brigades. The USMC seems to be seeing how much it can get out of the smaller, unarmed, VTOL VBAT 128 at 57 kg - 20,000 foot ceilling and 11 hours endurance.


The US Army has a Future Tactical UAS programme and the vehicle referenced in the article is the AeroVironment (Switchblade, Puma, Raven, Wasp) Jump 20 - a 98 kg craft with an endurance of 14 hours and a 17,000 foot ceiling.



Cheap, Small, Plentiful and vertical take off all seem to becoming prized characteristics at the tactical level on the ground.

Close @dimsum ?


One thing I took from Magyar's Birds info videos is that he prefers to carry lots of batteries rather than lots of drones.
 
You're guessing hunh? Another person who knows whereof they speak. :LOL:

What I'm left wondering is whether in a hot environment it is better to have a large number of small craft with small footprints rather than a big craft with a big footprint. Unlike the requirement for craft operating in a glacially slow environment.
It's a matter of "horses for courses". Large numbers of small craft with small footprints have a role as to big craft with big footprints.

You may need/use different types of craft at different times during the conflict. It was noted in a post from a previous thread that the utility of the Bayraktar was primarily during the initial phases of the Russian attack while the Russian AD systems were largely on the move along with the advancing troops and the Russians were being cautious with lots of friendly air assets in the area. Once the front lines settled down, cross-FEBA air traffic reduced and the Russians fully established their AD network the Bayraktars we're now very vulnerable and much less effective. Hence the shift to smaller UAV systems.

None of that to say that either type is better than the other. Each has its time and place during the conflict so you ideally will have both. Perhaps if the front becomes fluid again and the Russians are forced to risk their aircraft across the FEBA then the Russian AD net will become less effective and larger UAVs like the Bayraktar will again play a more prominent role.
 
I think that is kind of the point. The Grey Eagle is a scaled back version of the Predator/Sky Guardian 1600 kg vs 5800 kg. The US Army opted for the Grey Eagle to support their Divisional Combat Aviation Brigades. The USMC seems to be seeing how much it can get out of the smaller, unarmed, VTOL VBAT 128 at 57 kg - 20,000 foot ceilling and 11 hours endurance.


The US Army has a Future Tactical UAS programme and the vehicle referenced in the article is the AeroVironment (Switchblade, Puma, Raven, Wasp) Jump 20 - a 98 kg craft with an endurance of 14 hours and a 17,000 foot ceiling.



Cheap, Small, Plentiful and vertical take off all seem to becoming prized characteristics at the tactical level on the ground.

Close @dimsum ?


One thing I took from Magyar's Birds info videos is that he prefers to carry lots of batteries rather than lots of drones.
I’m not really sure how to make an apt analogy, but maybe this one:

It’s like a 60mm mortar vs an M777. Both lob explosive things in an arc at targets, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to replace either with the other. They’re used for different effects.
 
I’m not really sure how to make an apt analogy, but maybe this one:

It’s like a 60mm mortar vs an M777. Both lob explosive things in an arc at targets, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to replace either with the other. They’re used for different effects.
Understood. What army would rely on an M777 when a 60mm could get the job done?
 
You’re missing the point

Far from it.

Cover you arc! Come and get me if you see anything.
Observe and Report.

C3/C4/C5/I/S/TA/R or some combination there of. That is not a definition of an organization. That is a list of functions that every organization must perform.

ISR/ISTAR is not a discrete organization.

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance are all functions of any unit regardless if it is stuck in a trench, driving around the countryside, flying over head or bobbing on the briny.

The problem has always been for commanders to see what soldiers see.

10 MUSD tools designed to see the world through a straw on a single screen permits the commander to see a small portion of what his soldiers could see if they were looking and didn't have their eyeballs in the muck at the bottom of a trench spraying and praying with their rifles.

Specialty tools and formations are a Top Down asset that enhances command authority.

Mavik Drones and VBats are Bottom Up assets that enhance both command awareness and soldier effectiveness. The awareness and the effectiveness are enhanced by Personal Role Radios and the ability to chuck grenades (with or without grenatenwerfers). Grenades are nice because you can keep your head down when you lob them and close counts.

That low level situational awareness, and the ability to respond personally, effectively and immediately to a threat, does a lot to keep the fear at bay, enhance mission command and create a more effective fighting force. Like the Ukrainians.

Waiting in the bottom of a trench for a commander to finally find you a target and order you over the top when the whistle blows produces Russian results.

C5ISR?

How about SCIRT?

Surveillance - Cover your arc and Observe
Communication - Report
Intelligence -Analyse
Reconnaissance - Verify
Targeting - Task

Surveillance Communication = Observe
Intelligence Communication Reconnaissance Communication = Orient
Targeting Communication = Decide
All that is left to do is ACT
And repeat the cycle.
Many times, locally, and fast.
And communicate the ongoing results.

ISR is an infantry function whether leg, abn, heli, marine, motor, mech or armour.
ISR is a cavalry function whether light, medium or heavy
ISR is an airforce function whether fixed wing, rotary or unmanned
ISR is a navy function whether with Mk I eyeballs freezing on a bridge wing or with head phones on a submarine.

The faster you can close the OODA loop the better. That means ensuring that the person covering their arcs has the tools to react effectively and the authority to make that decision.


In other words you are looking for, in my opinion, a flat, aware, well equipped organization with distributed authority. And to me that means lots of small, cheap systems that allow the man or woman in the trench to be aware of what is happening outside the trench and being able to act effectively and communicate without having to raise their head into the enemy's line of sight.


Drones were originally sold as being cheap and plentiful to do the dull and dirty work. Somewhere along the way we ended up with exquisite masterpieces that are too costly to build in numbers and require byzantine command structures to decide where, when and how to allocate those scarce resources. And at the end of the day the Commander sees a patch of ground through a straw and his subordinates have to wait for him to tell them what they are facing.
 
You aren’t following the actual implementation.
The Army also has several smaller drones, down to the Squad level.

Gray Eagle has a specific purpose, as does things like the Global Hawk, Triton and Reaper, and the smaller systems do as well.

The needs and scale at National Command, and Theater Level Command are vastly different than someone in a trench.

You are also guilty of downplaying what ISR is, in the opposite end of what some try to do, and make is seem like high end spy craft.

The I is often mistaken, as it can’t solely be a gathering task, and also needs to be collated, analyzed, and distributed.
To often the I is left at the gathering task at unit levels and never gets to higher.

The reason that so many UAS exist is the roles need to overlap.
 
You aren’t following the actual implementation.
The Army also has several smaller drones, down to the Squad level.

Gray Eagle has a specific purpose, as does things like the Global Hawk, Triton and Reaper, and the smaller systems do as well.

The needs and scale at National Command, and Theater Level Command are vastly different than someone in a trench.

You are also guilty of downplaying what ISR is, in the opposite end of what some try to do, and make is seem like high end spy craft.

The I is often mistaken, as it can’t solely be a gathering task, and also needs to be collated, analyzed, and distributed.
To often the I is left at the gathering task at unit levels and never gets to higher.

The reason that so many UAS exist is the roles need to overlap.


I'm not seeing the disagreement.
 
The key element as far as i am concerned is the communication of the raw data as widely as possible as quickly as possible. Sure higher is going to have better overview and will be better positioned to handle some of the more esoteric data.

But at the lower levels everybody benefits from seeing and hearing. And higher benefits when they communicate their situation reliably and often.
 
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