By Sgt. 1st Class Leonel Rubio, Test and Evaluation NCO, Aviation Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command
FORT BENNING, Georgia — The Corona Virus could not stop Infantry Soldiers here from testing some new tools — drones small enough to fit in their rucksacks.
The Rucksack Portable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (RPUAS) represents a Short-Range Reconnaissance capability within a family of aerial systems spanning short, medium, and long-range reconnaissance.
The Army is looking to equip certain small unit formations with the capability to gather situational awareness information way beyond the next hill.
So, the Product Manager for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (PdM SUAS) brought two RPUAS vendor platforms for assessment during the limited user test (LUT).
COVID-19 initially threatened to delay the 199th Infantry Brigade’s Experimental Force (EXFOR), but after establishing protective protocols and following the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines, the Fort Hood, Texas-based U.S. Army Operational Test Command (OTC) and Fort Benning leadership agreed to move out.
The 199th’s Soldiers carried out their tactical missions using both RPUAS variants in the simulated woodland combat environments of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE).
According to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sean Mott, RPUAS test officer with OTC’s Aviation Test Directorate (AVTD), the LUT included three phases.
First, PdM SUAS conducted new equipment training, where Soldiers received classroom instruction and conducted practical exercises using the RPUAS.
Next, the Soldiers completed a collective training phase, where they progressed to executing unit mission essential tasks.
Once trained up, AVTD conducted an operational assessment of the two RPUAS platforms and the common Handheld Ground Control Station (H-GCS).
During all phases, Mott and his test team worked with the EXFOR and MCOE’s Maneuver Battle Lab (MBL) to assess the RPUAS platforms using realistic operational missions, post-mission surveys, and after action reviews along with full-motion video collected directly from the RPUAS as it flew on missions.
“The operational environment designed by OTC and MBL helped the Army accurately assess a small unit’s ability to complete doctrinal missions when equipped with the RPUAS,” said Maj. Pedro Costas, RPUAS LUT operations officer.
“The OTC/MBL partnership remains critical to the successful testing and evaluation of the RPUAS,” added Mott. “The data collected during the test will support an independent evaluation by the U.S. Army Evaluation Center.”
Soldiers conducted realistic mission vignettes and the operational environment enabled them to learn and employ the system’s capabilities.
“Missions conducted greatly improved unit readiness and lethality by aiding the Soldiers in making quicker tactical decisions and providing situation reports to higher headquarters,” said Col. John Knightstep, AVTD Director.
Soldiers flew over 20 sorties using the RPUAS, flying a variety of mission sets under a wide-range of realistic battlefield conditions.
They conducted mounted and dismounted attack, reconnaissance, and security missions under day, night, and night vision goggle conditions.
Knightstep said new Army technology like RPUAS gives the Company Commander the ability to conduct short range reconnaissance from a safe distance without putting Soldiers in harm’s way.
“Dangerous combat situations normally conducted by Soldiers can be mitigated with this inexpensive UAS asset, greatly reducing injuries or loss of life,” said Knightstep.
“The operational environment enabled the Soldiers to learn and employ the system capabilities,” added Knightstep.
“The missions conducted greatly improved unit readiness and lethality by aiding the Soldiers in making quicker tactical decisions and providing situation reports to higher headquarters,” he said.
Mott said feedback from the Soldiers will help PdM SUAS make decisions on which RPUAS to select, produce and field to the Army.
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
As the Army’s only independent operational tester, OTC tests Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. OTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer — the American Soldier.
The Aviation Test Directorate at West Fort Hood, Texas, plans and conducts operational tests and reports on manned and unmanned aviation-related equipment to include attack, reconnaissance, cargo and lift helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, tactical trainers, ground support equipment, and aviation countermeasure systems.