Army drone fleets pass audit with flying colours

The Defence Aviation Safety Authority (DASA) recently audited Army’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, and the fleet passed with flying colours.

CAPTION: A Shadow unmanned aerial system ready to be launched at the Townsville Field Training Area, Queensland.  Story by Squadron Leader Barrie Bardoe. Photo by Corporal Nicole Dorrett.

DASA’s Squadron Leader Malcolm Walker, an experienced pilot and flying instructor, said he was impressed by how Army operated its large and complex fleet.

“Army operate more than 1000 UAS, varying from the size of a mobile phone to the size of a small car,” Squadron Leader Walker explained.

Video CAPTION: Gunners from the 20th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery launched their Shadow Unmanned Aerial System in the Townsville Field Training Area.

“Such a large and diverse fleet presents a number of challenges, such as training, and, to use a pilot term, airmanship.

“It is very difficult to teach a soldier who flies a mobile phone-sized UAS to think like a pilot of a helicopter.

“Clearly, we don’t need the soldier to have all the training that the pilot has, but there are aspects of that we do want them to have.

“So the soldier’s airmanship needs to be scalable based upon the size and complexity of the UAS being operated.”

Another challenge for Army’s UAS capability is working closely with other militaries that have even larger fleets.

“Army often operate very closely with the US Marine Corps (USMC) with similar UAS,” Squadron Leader Walker said.

“There is a lot of learning that takes place between the USMC and the Australian Army that allows Army to advance its operations more quickly than if they didn’t operate closely together.”

The good news for Army’s UAS capability is that, while the DASA audit found areas for improvement, they were still assessed as exemplar operators.

“Army has been operating small to large UAS platforms for years and has learnt significant lessons in how to safely and effectively operate them in a variety of environments,” Squadron Leader Walker said.





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