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28 Oct 2009 US military seeks UAV training surrogates to avoid restrictions

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Restrictions on access to non-segregated airspace coupled with operational demands are generating stepped-up demand by the US military for surrogate UAV platforms to help with training and exercise requirements. The US Air Force has been using a contracted surrogate UAV service to support Central Command Air Force’s (CENTAF) Atlantic Strike IV urban combat air training exercise. The US Marine Corps (USMC) is currently exploring similar potential service options to support training during other similar exercises.

In both cases the surrogate system is used to replicate operations of the MQ-1 Predator UAV.

The CENTAF requirement, calls for a light aircraft modified to carry a combined electro-optic and forward-looking infrared video suite, and a combined civil and military standard communications system that includes L, C and S-band capabilities, linking to a MVR IV MVR III or remotely operated video enhanced receiver (Rover) III terminal. The aircrews are required to have a minimum of five years military flying experience, preferably in a close air support role or weapons and tactics instruction, and a US security clearance.

The aircraft is expected to fly a total of 8h in two sorties between 23 and 26 October, with operations to be conducted out of Shaw AFB in South Carolina. The contractor is also required to support Rover III support on the ground during the exercise.

The proposed USMC requirement is for 10 days of flight support for training at the Yuma, Arizona training range with an average sortie rate of one 8h mission per day.

According to a market survey released by the USMC on 8 August and closing 14 August, the proposed service-based arrangement, would support training instruction for the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One. The proposed service arrangement has a nominal value of $6.5 million.

The market survey document says that “airspace restrictions and the requirement to fly UAV missions over populated areas dictates the use of manned aerial vehicles that stimulate the Predator UAV and provide Predator quality video from a sensor aboard the aircraft to an actual Predator ground control station”.

The contractor would be required to supply the Predator ground control station as well as the aircraft sensor and communications suite. The minimum sensor specification is for a 14in turret carrying a 955mm long-range spotter lens and an infrared imager. The communications suite is required to support full streaming video with overlays over a minimum range of 120km (65nm).

As well as emulating Predator, the surrogate would also be used to simulate CAS aircraft to train JTAC skills.