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The US Army will not be carrying troops into battle zones aboard unmanned helicopters anytime soon, but will explore remote-controlled and autonomous flights technology for cargo ferrying, officials says.
“The questions about unmanned helicopters with crews in the back; there’s a level of trust there we won’t break,” said Col Paul Carvey, the army’s capability manager for unmanned aircraft systems, in an interview with Flightglobal. “We’re not putting soldiers in the back of helicopters without our aviators flying in the front.”
According to Carvey, opportunities to bring in unmanned helicopters for cargo resupply missions and to incorporate them into future strategies are limited, largely due to limited resources. The US Army anticipates UAVs will provide only a quarter of aerial logistical resupply needs in the “mid-term” in its 2010-2035 roadmap for unmanned aerial systems.
Adoption is limited by underdeveloped autonomous landing capabilities, though the Office of Naval Research is making advances in this area through its Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS), demonstrated on the K-MAX and Little Bird.
“It has not raised to the level of priority where we’re looking at that,” said Carvey. For the time being, the Army is busy implementing its current strategy of manned-unmanned teaming, using the Boeing AH-64 Apache for armed aerial scouting missions and upgrades to already operational UAVs.
According to the Army’s new chief of staff, General Mark Milley, the challenges facing unmanned helicopters are less technical, and more to do with institutional inhibitions. “We might wait for the air force to go first; see how their pilots fare with it,” he said.