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The US Army has been leading a Small-UAS Roadmap, which calls for increased interoperability, autonomy and command and control to expand the range and effectiveness of small attack drones. New small drone combat tactics are developed to accommodate emerging technologies such as AI-enabled command and control, higher resolution sensors, faster computer processing, multi-drone control “tablets” and streamlined multi-drone interoperability.
Over this backdrop, a new hand-held device that will enable ground soldiers to control multiple drones on a single system is nearing formal production. The device will manage flight path, operations and sensor payloads for multiple drones on one system.
The application of a common operational infrastructure backbone for a range of different sensors introduces a sphere of new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for the Army, as soldiers can readily switch from one sensor view to another in a fast-moving combat environment.
MAG Aerospace has been supporting the Army by working on prototypes of the new controller, and providing “initial qualification training” and logistical support.
The new controller can operate a range of small drones to include the one-pound Wasp Micro Air Vehicle, four-pound Raven drone and 13-pound Puma, among others. The common controller could, among other things, perform squad-level reconnaissance in high-risk areas.
The new system is engineered to enable faster exchange between sensor applications, and therefore generate improved sensor-to-shooter time for nearby ground units. There may also be combat circumstances wherein drone operators need to quickly shift from an Electro-Optical Sensor to Infrared thermal imaging should there be a need to track a heat signature.
Infrared imaging can be of particular value in areas where there may be obscurants or weather conditions challenging standard electro-optical detection.
The common controller could help drones share information with one another, all while networking with soldiers on the ground. For instance, if one small drone is tracking the course of an enemy armored vehicle, which then disappears into a wooded area on the other side of a ridge, a second nearby drone might be cued to use infrared sensors to track the heat signature coming from the engine of the otherwise undetectable vehicle operating beneath the trees, according to defensemaven.io.
A hand-launched Puma, for example, can operate its gimballed camera up to ranges of 500-feet in the air; should an enemy target or object of interest travel over a ridge at an altitude higher than 500-feet, a ground-based operator might wish to quickly switch from one small drone to another in better position to track the target – a tactic which could be expedited by a new common controller enabling fast exchange between drones.