British Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) AKA: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System The Royal Artillery (RA) A History of Aviation Pioneers (Safety)
Larkhill, a Wiltshire place synonymous with the Royal Artillery, is where the first military airfield in Britain was established for the War Office in 1909 with the first Gunner arrival being Capt Fulton RA in 1910.
It was the principle site for pilot training until 1912, when it was overtaken by Upavon airfield upon the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Larkhill was the site of the first military air trials in 1912 and many prototype aircraft were flown from the aerodrome. Pioneering activity included the first transmission of radio signals between the hangars and aircraft. The aerodrome produced many RFC pilots and thus played a significant role in the First World War. There are several monuments to early flyers that lost their lives in the surrounding landscape including one to Maj Alexander William Hewetson 66th Bty Royal Field Artillery who was killed whilst flying on the 17th July 1913 flying from Larkhill Aerodrome in a Bristol Coanda monoplane during the test for his aviation certificate.
The Fatal Accident on Salisbury Plain. From Flight/global archive, July 26th 1913.
At the inquest concerning the fatal accident to Maj Hewetson, the evidence given by those who were observing the flight led to the conclusion that the accident was caused by an error of judgment, the pilot attempting to make too sharp a turn. The Bristol monoplane had been flown by another pupil just previously, after which Maj Hewetson had made a short trial trip before setting out on his test flight. He made one wide turn successfully, but in attempting a second turn banked too steeply, and the machine dived straight to the ground. Mr. Jullerot, in giving evidence, said he flew over the spot after the accident and found nothing wrong with the air. He was asked by the Coroner whether he did not think forty-four years of age – Hewetson’s age – rather late in life to begin flying, and in reply he said he had come to the conclusion that it was not advisable for men of that age to take it up at all. Medical evidence was given showing that death was instantaneous. The Coroner, in summing up said that it was one of the sad accidents which marked the progress of aviation, but there was nothing in the case to suggest culpable negligence attaching to anyone. An experienced pilot had tried the machine after it had been overhauled, the weather was good for flying and the pilot was considered competent to fly the machine. A verdict of accidental death was returned.
Larkhill was in use on and off until the 1960s by Army and RAF manned aviation supporting troops on Salisbury plain or in direct support of Gunnery observation tasks.
50 Years on the Royal Artillery is once again leading the way in British Aviation practices for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Drones with units in Larkhill operating the MQM-57 Falconer built for battlefield reconnaissance in the 60’s(left), and later in the 70’s equipped with the USD/501 Midge Drone System which saw operational service on OP GRANBY in 1991 with 32 Heavy Regt RA (above).
The Midge Drone System was replaced by the BAE Systems Phoenix rail launched aircraft as the third generation of UAS in service with the RA. It was used operationally in the Balkans and on OP TELIC in Iraq by 32 Regt RA. Procured for the cold war on the West German plains Phoenix was never suitable for use in Iraq in the heat of the summer or Afghanistan due to summer temperatures, the altitude and terrain.
This saw the MOD procuring several UAS as UORs to provide ISTAR support on OPs TELIC and HERRICK. As with all UOR full Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and resourceing across all lines of development is not fully funded or addressed as they are expected to be temporary in nature. Some of the systems didn’t perform well however the current systems being operated still under UOR are providing support to the field Army worldwide in training and on operations.
Tarantula Hawk VTOL
Mini UAS providing support to the Counter IED task force on OP HERRICK since 2009. It is used for its hover and stare capability to identify command wires, disturbed earth, possible firing points to improve freedom of manoeuvre. Operating range of 2km and endurance of up to 40 mins max operating alt of 9,600 ft.
• Training flights conducted on Thorney Island, Salisbury Plain and Jordan.
• 2 Stroke engine, 10kg AUW, launched from an unprepared site.
• No TCAS / IFF/ Aircraft lighting or other Sense and Avoid system.
• ROZ / Working Area access must be controlled by JTAC /TACP / FST.
• Due to come into core in its current build standard, with no additional safety enhancements planned.
Tactical UAS which has provided support to land forces on OP TELIC and HERRICK, first deployed in 2007 it has flown over 78,000hrs. (Read about this elsewhere in this issue)
• Only operated in theatre.
• Operates from Bastion taxiway.
• Take-off and landing conducted either manually by a civilian contractor External Pilot or automatically using a GPS Take Off and Landing system.
• Dual pilot system – within an ISO container ground control station.
• IFF Mode 3C / No TCAS.
• Standard aircraft lighting – no IR.
• Airspace controlled procedurally.
• NOT coming into core.
Desert Hawk III
Mini UAS which has provided support to Company level groups on TELIC, HERRICK and in training worldwide. It has flown over 26,000hrs since 2007 (appx 50,000 sorties).
• Battery operated, 3.5kg, hand launched and recovered into an unprepared site. In Afghanistan this tends to be the PB HLS.
• Max range 15km from Ground Control Station normal operating alt 4-600ft AGL, max 10,000ft.
• Endurance approx 45-60 mins
• No TCAS / IFF / Standard aircraft lighting or other Sense and Avoid system.
• ROZ / Working Area access must be controlled by JTAC /TACP / FST.
• Supports most Battlegroup and Brigade level training events.
• Coming into core as part of A2020 with no additional safety enhancements planned.
UAS & Flight Safety
Remote pilots are often asked if we have similar processes to manned aviation.
Army UAS are registered military aircraft and are subject to the full MAA regulation set, but without any specialist pay. The Brigade therefore conducts comparable processes as manned aviators including, adherence to an ADS, competency, currency, medicals, HF trg, ground school, authorisation, mission planning, risk registers etc. – As dictated by the MRP. A Recent accident and tighter regulation have forced the organisation to re-look at its current UOR training, which had become “just enough just in time” to feed up to 60 ab-initio pilots to OP HERRICK every 6 months, and assurance processes to make them more comparable with manned aviation. This work is ongoing and includes:
Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) becoming AOA for the Army UAS Regiments 32, 47 and 104 Regt RA as of 01 Sep 2013.
• For the first time in the 60 years of Army UAS operations, mandating UAS aircrew trainees to conduct airmanship training in the cockpit of a manned aircraft.
• Replicate AAC QHI construct to form a core spine of aviation instructors, mentors and authorisers.
• Using Officer Aircrew Selection Centre aptitude testing to help in the selection of Tactical and Mini UAS pilots.
One hundred years on the RA is leading the way again with the Watchkeeper Tactical UAS main equipment programme which expects to deliver the first UAS certified to achieve full UK airworthiness certification. The system is currently undergoing flight trials in Aberporth, operated by THALES.
The system is being procured by the MOD: “To provide accurate, timely and high quality IMINT, collected, collated, exploited and disseminated primarily to satisfy land manoeuvre commanders’ critical information and intelligence requirements within the context of Joint Operations throughout a range of environments and across the spectrum of conflict.”
When delivered to the Army the system is to be operated from Boscombe Down Airfield Wiltshire into the Salisbury Plain Airspace and by NOTAM into the new D122a, b and c hanging Airspace South of Salisbury Plain.
The aircraft capabilities are:
• IFF Mode up to 4.
• No TCAS or other sense and avoid.
• Standard aviation and IR lighting.
• Fully Automatic Take Off and Landing systems. (GPS and RADAR/ILS).
• Boscombe ATC will provide a deconfliction service in D122 and an advisory service for all Salisbury Plain airspace.
• Endurance 16hrs
• Range 150Km
• Ceiling 16,000ft AMSL
• Dual Sensor payload – EO/IR and SAR/GMTI.
All Army UAS are “flown” by autopilot and “operated” by RA soldiers, not Officers, in the aircrew posts designated UAS-Pilot and UAS-Captain. The aircraft is manoeuvred around its airspace using a windows based, (drop down menus and a mouse) Graphical User Interface to mission plan, dynamically re-task or drag and drop the aircraft onto task. The aircrew cannot force the aircraft into manoeuvres outside of its software envelope. Every UAS system has built in pre-programmable logics to react to some emergencies i.e. in the event of losing communications the aircraft can be pre-programmed to conduct a holding climb followed by a Return to Base on a pre-determined route.
Ground crew operations are conducted by RA soldiers and all engineering is conducted by REME soldiers in the same construct to that of the AAC.
Regulation RA2320 mandates UAS to operate in segregated airspace to reduce the risk of Mid Air Collisions as they do not yet have any appropriate/equivalent sense and avoid capabilities to be able to operate under VFR flight rules. As UAS only ever operate in airspace allocated to them by a qualified airspace co-ordinator/controller the Risk to Life to UAS aircrew is nil which is fantastic for Tolerability and ALARP statements, but by not having any aircrew on board the sum for any Cost Benefit Analysis has a zero in it and anything multiplied by zero is zero. Improvements in air safety to prevent Manned MAC are a much higher priority. Our records show that Army UAS tend to stay within the airspace allocated and therefore rely on other air users to conform to regulation and ACA orders to stay safe. Therefore I request that as a manned aviator you check ACM, NOTAM and confirm and confirm again with the ACA that you are afforded the appropriate separation from UAS and respect any UAS ROZ/Working Areas because: UAS cannot and do not conduct LOOKOUT.
The UAS community has recorded approx 18 Airprox and 25 airspace incursions since 2011 and has the imagery from most of the airprox. Noting that the UAS is only airborne to support ground troops by look down which it does about 90-95% of its time.
The crew and ground operators only have a “lookout” capability during:
• Take off, landing, groundcrew using the mark 1 eyeball.
• To conduct periodic cloud scans.
• Occasionally on transit.
N.B. The sensors have a limited LOOKOUT capability as they are either forward facing or underslung cameras and therfore cannot do a full Lookout sweep. We can summize that the 43 in the last 18 months are probably akin to the Iceberg model rolled out whenever occurrence rates are discussed.
One way to improve understanding of UAS operations, their limitations and to reduce the RtL is to interact with them more either by inviting JHC or 1 Arty Bde UAS specialists to brief your 4 worlds to dispel some myths, or on training Exercises where we apply additional layers of safety, like air sentries, to help protect manned aviators who may stray or be wrongly routed into our allocated airspace.
The primary Risk to Life posed by UAS is Mid Air Collision (MAC) due to incursion by 3rd party aircraft or excursion of the UAS from segregated airspace.