UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Notes from AUVSI’s 2014 Conference and Trade Show
ORLANDO, Florida – The big droids, drones and bots show sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is over after four days in Florida and here’s what your 4GWAR editor learned in the process. (Be sure to click on the photos to see a larger image)
First off, the organization is considering a name change. If we had a dollar for every person we had to explain what AUVSI stood for over the years – we’d be at least a thousandaire. At the opening session of the gathering Monday (May 12) AUVSI Board Chairman John Lademan said the decade-old organization was at least thinking about a name that would better reflect its diversity: manufacturers and operators of robots, unmanned aircraft, remotely operated ground vehicles and automous vehicles that move in and under the waves – not to mention the sensor makers, parts suppliers, maintenance, training and research organizations that are also members.
“We’re looking at rebranding. That’s not something we’re committed to yet, but it’s something we’re exploring,” Landeman said. No word yet on when some ideas might be floated.
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At that same session, the deputy head of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Lieutenant General Kevin Mangum explained why the Army was teaming manned and unmanned systems – especially drones and helicopters – as it deals with reductions in force and funding.
Mangum said Army testing has shown Manned-Unmanned Teaming, known as MUM-T, can increase how long aircraft can conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions – without putting humans in harms way (standoff capability). MUM-T also increases lethality and survivability he said.
As an example, he told 4GWAR after speaking, the Army is pairing drones like the MQ-1 Gray Eagle with Apache attack helicopters to replace the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter, which is being phased out – largely for financial reasons.
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Lockheed Martin introduced a fire fighting variant of the six-wheeled autonomous ground vehicle it unveiled in 2006 to carry the bullets, batteries and other heavy loads that a squad of soldiers or Marines would otherwise have to hump over rugged country.
That unmanned ground vehicle — officially the Squad Mission Support System but also called Ox — has been tested in the field by the U.S. and British armies and is slated for another capability test in August. It be guided from a distance using satellite communications and then picked up and carried in a sling beneath an unmanned helicopter, Lockheed’s K-MAX.
But a bright red version of the OX, known as the Fire Ox, was on display on the exhibit floor at the Orange County Convention Center. It has a dual use nozzle for spraying water or firefighting foam, as well as a video camera and thermal imaging sensor so it can be sent on ahead of firefighters to assess danger.
Don Nimblett, Lockheed Martin’s unmanned systems business development manager, said the domestic military market is flat right now, adding: “that’s one of the reasons [why] we’re looking into the commercial market.”
Lockheed had plenty of company when it comes to re-purposing systems originally designed for the defense sector. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) maker Insitu talked up the capabilities of its Scan Eagle small UAS in helping emergency managers in Australia get a handle on wildfires. The land and ship-launched Scan Eagle was developed for the Navy and Marine Corps and was widely used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And AeroVironment, another maker of small UAS brought in a North Dakota sherriff’s deputy – who also teaches the state’s school of aeronautics – to talk about how small unmanned fixed wing aircraft and helicopters have been used for police work by the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department.
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Nine small UAS took to the air over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Sunday (May 11) to demonstrate the many uses of smaller remotely controlled and autonomous aircraft.
But the FAA, which oversees air safety, kept a pretty short leash on the event, preventing most visitors from approaching the staging area for aircraft launching. Instead spectators had to watch the proceedings about 100 yards away from the aircraft, monitoring their progress in the sky with several large TV monitors.
That added to an undercurrent of grumbling throughout the conference about what is seen as the FAA’s slow pace in integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace with airliners, private planes and traffic helicopters. (More on this later)
Entry filed under: Aircraft, Naval Warfare, Skills and Training, Technology, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: aerospace, AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2014, emergency management, forest fire fighting, Lockheed Martin SMSS, military aviation, Topics, UAS, UAV, unmanned aircraft, unmanned ground vehicles.