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AUVSI 2013: Who Should Operate the Navy’s Unmanned Aircraft?

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Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy DeYoung and Naval Aircrewman 1st Class David Berber, both reservists attached to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 60, demonstrate the MQ-8B Fire Scout flight simulator in 2012. US Navy Photo

Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy DeYoung and Naval Aircrewman 1st Class David Berber, both reservists attached to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 60, demonstrate the MQ-8B Fire Scout flight simulator in 2012. US Navy Photo

As the Navy prepares to train operators for the bevy of planned unmanned aerial the service should consider creating an officer class specific to the unmanned aerial systems (UAS), said an analyst with Northrop Grumman at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Unmanned Systems 2013 conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

Jay Stout, a former naval aviator and an analyst at Northrop Grumman, presented a notional path for future unmanned aerial systems operators that would create a new class of officers to fly the future carrier-based Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS), MQ-8 Fire Scout rotary wing UAS and the high-flying MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance aircraft.

“The Navy has sourced mostly officers and mostly aviators from a variety of communities sat them down with the UAS contractors with some on-the-job training and perhaps some contractor training and put them in front of consoles and it has worked ok up until this point,” Stout said.
“But it’s inconsistent with the way the Navy has traditionally run a very formal institutionalized, very rigorous training program for its aviation programs.”

Stout used the example of the Air Force’s problems finding aviators to fly the unmanned MQ-1 Predators over early in the air wars over Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Air Force sourced pilots from everywhere,” he said.
“It was very disruptive, hurt a lot of feelings. It wasn’t the most efficient way to go… and probably drove some people out of the Air Force.”

The Air Force eventually tapped officers entering the service to become a part of a UAS specific community that had a set of performance standards that were different from the rest of the tactical aviation community.

Stout’s proposal would create a similar program that would tap junior officers, give them basic flight training and require flyers to maintain a instrument flight rules rating through the Federal Aviation Administration.

“They’re real pilots, not naval aviators, but they do real flying aboard real aircraft,” he said.

The Navy is still developing the career path for UAS operators and still hasn’t determined if enlisted or officers should operate the major UAS in the service’s pipeline.

However, the Navy has expressed an interest in creating a common control system for its unmanned aerial vehicles that look closer to a mouse and keyboard setup rather than the simulated cockpits used by the Air Force.

The Navy’s UAS differs from Air Force systems in their command and control philosophy. The Navy relies on a greater degree of autonomy with its UAS while the Air Force has their aircraft under direct control.

Capt. Jamie Engdahl, Naval Air Systems Command Unmanned Combat Air System Aircraft Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program manager, said UCAS-D’s control scheme could echo the future of the Navy’s efforts in a conference call with reporters in May.

“It is an autonomous vehicle,” Engdahl said.
“It will be under direct control by the mission operator but there’s no stick or throttle or break pedal inside the mission operator station… You have a man in the loop who can direct the airplane and that can tell it what to do but the execution is on the air vehicle.”

  • Truc-Mai Phelps

    The USN should look closely to the US Army’s use of WO(F)s. A lot of aviators just want to fly and not be concerned with command.

  • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

    The USN and the USAF should seriously follow the US Army Model on Warrant officers. The US Army uses Warrant officers to fly helicopters & UAV’s. It just makes perfect sense to put Warrant officers in Helicopters and UAV’s. Their not concern about commanding units, their only concern is to do their job and fly. Besides, the best way they can get Warrant officer pilots is from the NCO Corp E-5 and above or those with a technical associates degree.

  • Haole Jon

    SECNAV recently said he planned on looking into enlisted pilots for Firescout, and I don’t see why not. Enlisted Sailors currently serve as air controllers and LCAC craftmasters, I don’t see why in a point-and-click operating environment we would need to required pilots to man these machines. Pilots would be in the mission planning process, obviously, but in the daily operation it seems unnecessary.