Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System Exercise A Training First
(Source: US Army; issued Jan. 31, 2017)
A Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system taxis at Marshall Army Airfield, Fort Riley. The aircraft was involved with a week-long Table 6 Aerial Gunnery Training, the first of its kind at Fort Riley. (US Army photo)
A milestone in the training with the Gray Eagle, an unmanned aircraft system, has been reached at Fort Riley and will enhance the ability of UAS technicians to prepare for, and win, in a combat zone.

Known to the Soldiers of the Company F, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, as Table VI Aerial Gunnery Training, it is more comprehensive than previous training scenarios and, up to now, has not been possible at Fort Riley, said Capt. Christopher Landers, company commander, Co. F, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div.

The training took place Jan. 18. Capt. Christopher Landers, company commander, Co. F, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., was pleased with the work his team accomplished.

“We were able to complete four of the planned six crews on that one day,” he said. “The reason such training was not possible at Fort Riley before now was not due to a lack of resources at the post, but because the cycle of deployments were such that we had to do this training downrange. It was a matter of time constraints. So doing a home station gunnery like this is not common.”

Now, with more time between deployments, the need for this kind of training comes home and Fort Riley is at the forefront of meeting that need.

“This is a big deal for us,” said Fred Siebe, Douthit Gunnery Complex manager, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “It’s the first time they’ve been able to do Table VI here.”

The weeklong exercise required the Soldiers from the unit operate Gray Eagle UAS around the clock.

UAS and HELLFIRE

Gray Eagles can perform reconnaissance or deliver Hellfire missile ordinance, an air-to-surface precision missile. In fact, Landers said, the range of each Gray Eagle depends on whether or not it is carrying a payload of missiles.

“If they aren’t carrying missiles, they can stay airborne for about 16 hours,” Landers said. “If they are armed, that number goes down to about 12.”

During the exercise, Gray Eagles will find targets constructed by Siebe’s team and use a laser to “paint” the target. The Hellfire missile then uses the laser to find and destroy the target.

One aspect of the training involves the concept of “terminal guidance.”

The UAS will acquire the target with the laser, Landers said, and the Hellfire will use the laser to find and destroy the target. The missile can also adjust its flight up to a certain moment, after which flight corrections are not possible. Those final moments before corrections can’t take place are called terminal guidance.

COMING TO TERMS

Terms “gunnery” and “training table” bear defining. “The aviation gunnery program is an event in which individuals, crews, teams, platoons, and companies train to meet standards for weapons proficiency as well as validate the operational readiness of the unit aerial weapons systems,” Landers said.

According to an article in Infantry magazine titled “Heavy Weapons Gunnery in an Airborne-Air Assault Weapons Company,” by Capt. John Herger, “gunnery is a highly structured progression of training that begins with the assessment of basic individual skills and culminates with … collective training.”

Gunnery crews exercise on a variety of different systems, or platforms, of which the Gray Eagle UAS is an example. It “focuses on the six tables in which crews certify on their mounted platforms,” Herger said.

The key to each training table is taking the individual Soldier from prerequisite training using classrooms, training aids, devices, simulators and simulations to live-fire exercises. With each successive training table, more and more Soldiers and units are involved and all are working in concert with each other. Once Soldiers in a unit like Co. F, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., reach Table VI qualification training, they are in what Herger calls a “gate to live fire.”

According to the Gunnery Table VI document, this week-long training qualifies aircraft and crews in “single live qualification.” Crews will be evaluated “on engaging moving and stationary targets using the UAS laser and or weapon system.”

Teaming up with Siebe’s range control staff, crews and aircraft of the Gray Eagle UAS system can train, prepare and be ready to meet and exceed mission requirements when called upon to do so.

There will be more such training at Fort Riley as the Gray Eagle team remains ready for future deployments.

“Since this was the first time conducting this type of gunnery training for us here at Fort Riley, it served as a testbed on our end to try and gauge how long it would take to get crews qualified and the resources required to do so. We walked away with a solid plan for our next company-wide iteration that will look to qualify up to 20 crews,” Landers said.

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