Unmanned logistics air vehicles (ULAV) are likely to gain a significantly greater role in US Army operations over the next one to four years according to its head of Unmanned Systems Integration, Colonel John Burke.
"Focussed logistics" Burke says, particularly through the use of parafoil based systems, are part of the “avalanche of things that are pushing as unmanned applications”.
The US Special Forces Command already has a small number of Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology (MMIST) CQ-10A "Snow Goose" ULAV systems in service. The US Army has in parallel has been undertaking extensive research and development work on precision parafoil gliding systems such as the Joint Precision Air Drop System (JPADS) Burke says.
Speaking at the Unmanned Systems North America 2006 conference in Orlando, Florida 29 August, he described Snow Goose as leveraging a combination of “the command and control, and the accuracy that we have developed for the One Systems ground control station and the One System remote video transceiver…into unmanned aerial resupply, in this case with a powered parafoil”
JPADS is based on MMIST’s Sherpa parafoil system. Burke says that the system has evolved to be able to “do precision landing of up to five tonnes of product into remote locations and then backhaul nothing more than the parachute…into routine logistics back at the point of departure”.
Extensive work has also been carried out by the US Army’s Aviation research and development centre, leading to “great advances in the aerial drop of medical products”.
These combined efforts are collectively working to shape Army thinking on “where we are going to go in the near future, 1-4 years, on unmanned airborne resupply.”
MMIST company president Sean McCann says that the primary challenge now facing the US services in developing ULAV operations is doctrinal rather than technical, but could potentially take longer than the timeframes Burke is suggesting.
“The barriers are not technical; it is not the air platform. There is a need for innovation regarding approaching how the Services look at cargo delivery across the board. That may take more than five years”.
SHERPA and similar types of parafoil landing systems need to be understood as gliders McCann says, rather than as another form of parachute, and “gliders are in fact UAVs”.
He says that the bulk of the military aviation community “don’t treat gliders or self propelled paragliders in the same way as they treat other aircraft types.”
There is also a need for better education within the Services generally about “what is already available and the role that gliders can play in improving how all types of cargo aircraft are operated”.