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Soldiers test digital drone kit for the squad

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 (U.S. Army)

Soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga., are testing out a new digital gadget – a smart phone device that allows leaders to view video feed from unmanned aerial and ground vehicles.

The Maneuver Battle Lab is running the May 5-16 experiment to test prototypes of the Small Unit Leader Situationas Awareness Tool or SULSTAT.

Infantry squads for some time have carried and controlled their own robots for inspecting caves and buildings and unmanned aerial systems to recon what’s over the next hill.

But the squad or platoon leader often has to stick close to the soldier with the remote control to see any real-time video sent back from the drones.

The SULSTAT could change that. “Whatever the air feed … or ground feed is, that is basically forwarded out to the small unit leader, so he can take look at what his operator is seeing to make him have a better situational awareness,” said Dave Stone, an engineer with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Ground Combat Element.

Stone is working with Army officials at Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence to work out the bugs with SULSTAT.

For this experiment, soldiers are using feed from a Raven UAV and a Dragon Runner UGV. The test squad has four SULSTATs, being used by the platoon leader, squad leader and two team leaders.

“It has potential,” said 1st lt. Brandon Slusher, platoon leader for the experimental platoon.

One of the goals of the experiment is to figure out how many of these devices are needed in each squad. Slusher seemed to already know the answer to this.

“It can be useful at my level but not necessarily at the team-leader level,” he said. “They need to be controlling their teams.”

Both Slusher and Staff Sgt. Vincent Kelly, a squad leader for the experiment, agreed that the range of the device needs to be improved. They said it worked well at ranges between 12 and 20 feet away from the operator with the remote control. For SULSTAT to be effective, Kelly and Slusher said it would need to have range of about 200 meters.

If all goes well, the technology will be incorporated into the Army’s Nett Warrior, a compact, digital command and control system that allows leaders to track the locations of their soldiers so they know where they are at all times.

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