Army tests giving ground forces control of Gray Eagle payload

The tests of the One System Remote Video Terminal are part of a long-range plan to improve UAS interoperability.

Army Gray Eagle

The Army last week concluded tests of a somewhat proven capability, giving soldiers on the ground control, of an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft’s payload.

The exercise at the National Training Center, or NTC, at Fort Irwin, Calif., involved the Gray Eagle’s  One System Remote Video Terminal, or OSRVT. Although OSRVT has already been used in combat in Afghanistan, the tests are necessary because it is a program of record.   

The Army uses Gray Eagles, made by General Atomics and a variant of the Air Force’s more famous Predator UAS, for persistent, wide-area surveillance, target acquisition and communications relay. During the exercise, ground forces made use of UAS Level of Interoperability 3, which gives them control of the payload, though not the Gray Eagle itself, Col. Thomas von Eschenbach, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability manager for UAS, said in an Army news release. The Army also has tested going to Level 5 with Apache helicopter pilots, giving them full control of the UAS.

OSRVT is a useful tool for soldiers on the ground that “enables warfighters to remotely downlink live surveillance images and critical geospatial data directly from joint operations tactical unmanned aircraft systems and manned platforms,” according to Textron, the system’s manufacturer.   

The testing was necessary to demonstrate its reliability and robustness given that OSRVT, which also works with Shadow UAS, is a program of record. But the system, which consists of a radio transceiver, laptop, antennas and software, to for communication and data relay from the ground to the UAS, has already been used in combat. “[M]ore than 2,000 copies of the OSRVT have been used in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq – including 1,000 of the version tested at Fort Irwin,” Richard Whittle, global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, writes in Breaking Defense. “So Army officials are hardly awaiting the OSRVT’s recent test results with bated breath,” which are expected toward the end of this year. 

Integrated drone operations is something outlined in the DOD’s UAS roadmap and, in a plan that takes into account waning budget numbers, its Aviation Restructure Initiative. 

The OSRVT was previously incorporated in the first ever Manned-Unmanned Systems Integration Capability, or MUSIC, Exercise in 2011, which was the largest demonstration of manned-unmanned interoperability ever attempted, the Army said at the time. “The combination of [Mini-Universal Ground Control Station] M-UGCS, [Universal Ground Control Station] UGCS and OSRVT serves as the catalyst for interoperability amongst the Army's manned and unmanned aviation fleet,” the Army said. “Interoperability translates into cost savings and increased efficiency through common hardware and software. Interoperability is also helping to mitigate the ever-increasing threat to our soldiers, due to advancements in enemy technologies, and increasing our Army's overall combat edge.”

The field tests last week also provided an opportunity for soldiers to learn and perform the bulk of the maintenance required for the OSRVT, which will also provide cost savings as the Army has typically contracted out for such work. 

The Army continues to field Gray Eagle units, with a total of nine units, each consisting of 12 Gray Eagles, due to be fielded by the end of the year. By 2018, the Army plans to complete the fielding to brigade combat teams with 15 units.

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