Monday, January 9, 2012

Gray eagles soon to hover here?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 10:31 AM

Peace activist Bill Sulzman sends along a link to the following story about a Combat Aviation Brigade forming at Fort Riley, Kan., where soldiers are learning to pilot drones that will become part of the CAB.

Could that mean the new CAB that will be formed here also would have a drone component? In Sulzman's opinion, it's very likely.

Two Gray Eagle operators from F Company, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, perform training operations at Fort Riley, Kan., with support from personnel from the Directorate of Training and Doctrine. These soldiers will become master gunners and will train other members of F Company on Gray Eagle operations.
  • Sgt. Keven Perry
  • Two Gray Eagle operators from F Company, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, perform training operations at Fort Riley, Kan., with support from personnel from the Directorate of Training and Doctrine. These soldiers will become master gunners and will train other members of F Company on Gray Eagle operations.

Here's the story from the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System.

By Sgt. Keven Parry
Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

FORT RILEY, Kan. - The Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, is planning on adding a new combat strength to their capabilities in March with the addition of an unmanned aerial system company.

F Company, CAB, will contribute to the brigade’s mission by flying the Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial System. Although F company is already operationally part of the CAB, their official stand up occurs this spring.

F Company will provide the CAB with long reaching unmanned support through the abilities of the Gray Eagle. Some of its key features are the ability to stay airborne longer than other manned and unmanned platforms, the ability to integrate with CAB attack helicopters and the ability to engage targets on the ground.

“It’s a multiple asset that the commander can use for many different situations,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffrey Stokes, the F Company commander.

Stokes has seen both the strengths and challenges that FENIX has faced during the process of building F Company. Challenges such as finding sufficient air space for training and adapting to software updates to the Gray Eagle platform have kept the soldiers of F Company in a constant state of learning and training.

Despite the challenges, the soldiers of F Company know that they provide advantages to troops on the battlefield.

“The biggest thing I think we bring is the fact that we can stay in the air for a long time,” Stokes said.

According to operators in F Company, the Gray Eagle can provide nearly 24 hours of coverage while in a reconnaissance configuration. This ability almost quadruples the flight time of the Shadow, a similar UAS.

In addition to the reconnaissance configuration, the Gray Eagle can be configured to become an asset to aircraft over the battlefield.

Stokes said that Gray Eagle operators have learned how to interact with aircraft pilots from all branches of the military in order to provide support. For the CAB, these interactions can provide helicopter pilots with additional options.

“There’s a lot of different ways that we can team up with their attack helicopters,” said Sgt. Richard Kinney, a FENIX UAS operator.

Apache pilots not only have the ability to communicate vocally with operators, but they can also see the payload that the Gray Eagle is carrying. And with the introduction of the Apache Block III aircraft, scheduled to reach the CAB in March, pilots can actually take control of the payload, Kinney said.

“We can have a much larger impact on the battlefield,” said Spc. David Walsh, a FENIX UAS operator.

Ultimately, Gray Eagle operators will have the capability to acquire and engage targets on their own, according to the needs of the ground troops or the ground commander.

The F Company “FENIX” Gray Eagle operators will become an asset to the CAB, the division and to any task force they support, as the soldiers and leaders of each element learn how to work together to accomplish their missions.

It's unclear where the unmanned aerial systems could be deployed at Fort Carson, because the 2007 Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site Transformation Environmental Impact Statement states:

These UAS’s cannot be used at the PCMS under current
conditions because the PCMS lacks restricted airspace (that is, an
area that is restricted from entry, usually up to a certain elevation, by
other aircraft). UAS’s can only operate in areas without restricted
airspace if they are accompanied by manned aircraft. Because no
manned aircraft are assigned to Fort Carson, none is available
to accompany UAS’s.

All of this makes the Not 1 More Acre! folks a bit nervous. Not 1 More Acre! is comprised of people opposed to further development of the maneuver site for military use. The group recently called for citizens to contact Sen. Mark Udall and register protest of any effort to undermine the ban on military construction at Pinon Canyon in the southeast portion of the state.

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