Army to control overseas combat drones from US

The U.S. Army is working with industry to implement drone operations that enable high-risk combat missions to be controlled by a U.S.-based pilot, reducing vulnerability to enemy attack and drawing upon advanced satellite networks to improve video feeds.

It’s a technical system called Remote Split Operations (RSO), which has been operational with Air Force from a high-op-tempo command and control station at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Much of the work, going back years to the time when the Air Force first developed the technology, is performed by a U.S.-based ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) firm called MAG Aerospace. Years ago, MAG's Air Force service began with enabling Predator feeds and then migrating to Reapers.

Now, given the massive uptick in combat zone combatant commander requests for ISR and drone operations - MAG is working closely with the Army to bring this technology to the Army’s Grey Eagle drone.

“We support the long haul connectivity where the pilot and the sensor operator are separated. They connect through terrestrial and satellite communications to remote locations forward in theater,” John Belcher, MAG Director of Technical Service, told Warrior in an interview.

The core elements of the technology, which MAG now operates for at least seven Air Force sites, are quickly being transferred to Army command and control centers at both Ft. Stewart, Ga., and Ft. Hood, Texas.

“Eight years ago we first briefed the Army Chief of Staff on RSO to enhance mission capability. Fast forward to now - we are bringing RSO to the Army,” Dan Edwards, Vice President MAG’s Fayetteville business unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Also, the technology continues to evolve, MAG developers say; the ISR system now brings operators and ability to watch 10-points of interest, enabling more than 10 close air patrol missions at one time, Belcher explained.

“We also do maintenance on the aircraft,” he added.

Using the “long-haul” remote connectivity, drones are taken off “line-of-sight” connectivity using “C-band” satellite frequencies. The drones takeoff and land from what is called the “launch and recovery element,” Edwards explained.

Improved resolution and fidelity of video images also represents a significant a significant technical step forward for the ISR operations. Typically, most video appears with a 1080 pixels (dots per square inch) level of resolution - yet MAG is now integrating the most cutting edge commercial resolution. The increased clarity, used in the most modern televisions, goes as high as 4K - or 4,000 pixels. (Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Shoomaker has joined MAG Aerospace Board of Directors).

“This makes it easier for an imaging analyst to differentiate whether a guy is carrying a broom or a weapon,” Belcher said.

Advanced ISR technology, Edwards said, is also increasingly drawing upon artificial intelligence to organize incoming data from video feeds. Advanced AI, for instance, can help identify moments of tactical relevance and free up human operators for more pressing missions.

“AI can help us narrow the search,” Edwards added.

“When we are doing ops and maintaining architecture such as these critical components against threats, we make sure the hardware and software are immune from cyberattack,” Joe Fluet, MAG CEO, told Warrior.

The maturation of this technology, developers explain, has been advancing at near lighting speed.

“When I was on my first military assignment during the Gulf War, I wore a pair of binoculars and night vision. I wrote down what I saw. While there still is a place for rotary wing technology, the U.S. military has obviated the need for low and slow platforms. We can fly higher, faster and collect a much greater level of detail,” Fluet said.

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