Released: 23 Dec 1999
by Capt. Craig Heighton
53rd Wing Public Affairs
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- To the casual observer, watching the unmanned aerial vehicle in the sky may remind him of a flying peanut, but the UAV is actually a practical aircraft designed to save lives and get "one up" on the enemy.
"Using Bombardier Aerospace's CL-327 Guardian UAV, special ops forces are able to receive real-time video to see what is ahead of them," said Maj. Stephen Bishop, program manager for the small-scale contingency demonstration. "With that information, they can either send in close air support to take out the obstacle or deviate around the opposing forces."
The UAV Battlelab, in conjunction with Air Force Special Operations Command's 18th Flight Test Squadron, conducted a weeklong test recently of a Guardian that was fitted with off-the-shelf electronic equipment. The battlelab then applied the system to support forces engaged in a simulated small-scale contingency operation.
Providing a direct video picture to Air Force combat forces -- while on the move -- had not been demonstrated before.
"In our demonstration, we simultaneously fed video directly from the UAV to airborne and ground units, in real time, to allow them to react to threats," said Bishop. "Up until now, this concept could be accomplished only with the aid of big, bulky equipment and satellites."
With this demonstration complete, real-world uses such as safely evacuating threatened embassy personnel or escorting civilians in hostile territories during humanitarian missions may be only years away.
In the scenario, teams from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., were evacuating non-combatant civilians in a heavily wooded, hostile territory. Hovering approximately 500 feet overhead, the UAV was their eye in the sky, giving them a real-time look at what lay ahead of them as they worked their way down an old dirt road.
"We did have (opposition forces) up ahead at a blocking position," said Tech. Sgt. Bart Decker, a combat controller with the 23rd STS, as he sat in his HUMVEE and saw the live feed from the Guardian on his laptop computer. "We detected it, and instead of putting the team in harm's way, we turned in time to try a different route and got out of the hostile situation."
If there was no other way around that situation, Decker said he had another option.
"We could call in airborne strike support to take out the enemy," said Decker. "They would be able to see what I'm seeing here in the tactical vehicle."
The demonstration was a success, proving a concept that started out as just a mere "what-if" question two years ago.
From here, the battlelab presents its findings to the Air Force Requirements Oversight Committee, which will decide if this concept holds enough merit and utility to divert existing funds to eventually field the concept. Theoretically, this capability could be to operational units within two to three years. (Courtesy of Night Flyer News Service)
* Unmanned Air Vehicle Battlelab
* Hurlburt Field