PM UAS has set up a collaborative memorandum of understanding with Middle Tennessee State University that is designed to promote independent research of UAS development, deployment, tactics, techniques and procedures. The goal is to advance academic and operational understanding of the technologies involved, said Lt. Col. Robb Walker, director of external programs, PM UAS.
Academic research and study agreements are also underway between PM UAS and Mississippi State University, Alabama A&M University and Auburn University, Walker added.
These academic partnerships will not only facilitate ongoing dialogue between the Army's PM UAS and the academic institutions related to the growing use of UAS in combat operations, but will also explore the full range of the rapidly expanding uses of UAS technology.
"UAS have changed the way we fight and will continue to change the way we operate in the U.S. It is natural and very helpful for universities to work toward standing up a UAS curriculum, in some cases within their aerospace engineering departments. UAS use in the national airspace, which is in its infancy, is something they will be able to research and study as well," Walker said.
For instance, UAS operation within the U.S. is expected to increase in a variety of key respects and potentially contribute to the technological advancement of domestic disaster response and humanitarian relief efforts as well as environmental, geological, agricultural and law-enforcement initiatives. UAS may increasingly be used to study wildlife and ecosystems and also contribute substantially to vital relief efforts in the event of emergencies such as floods, earthquakes and wildfires.
"These UAS agreements could lead to further cross-referencing of academic boundaries, connecting aeronautical engineering, mechanical engineering and airspace issues," Walker explained.
The agreements will allow students, in some cases, to visit Department of Defense laboratories at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala. The research will take up examination regarding the mechanics of UAS flight as well as sensor technology applications, interoperability issues and cutting-edge efforts such as manned-unmanned teaming, wherein manned aircraft work in tandem with nearby UAS to share and distribute sensor feeds in real time.
"There are an endless number of things you could use UAS for. It is amazing to see what these students think of and how they conquer problem," Walker said. "The success of this program with universities will help accelerate some of the technological advances we seek for Army UAS programs."
Overall, the Army now manages a sizeable fleet of more than 6,000 UAS which have logged more than 1.43 million flight hours in support of worldwide combat missions, Walker said.
"This symbiotic relationship with academic institutions is designed to benefit the Warfighter, something which is always the bottom line," he added.