Army Aviation Team Passes Software Success in Live-Fire Test
Less than a second.
This is the time it took for an Apache helicopter in Europe to transmit a call for fire to ground forces while operating ahead of the line of fire. A digital chain of messages traveled half the world in less than that single second.
It was a success for the Army and for the team of engineers from the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center who were testing the digital exchange of fire mission data in a sensor-gunner mission.
What they discovered is that the digital way is there and it works, but digital sustainment training is critical to success. The technology must continue to work after its initial commissioning.
“This combat aviation brigade made history by being the first unit to integrate the digital call-to-fire of an AH-64D Apache aircraft into a live-fire exercise,” said Johnnie Johnson, chief of project and head of the army interoperability branch at DEVCOM Aviation & Missile. Management of software, simulation, systems engineering and integration of the Center. “The ability to send call-for-fire messages digitally reduces the risk of human error. Prior to this capability, pilots would use voice calls over radio to call in artillery fire at a target. After years of testing of this capability in the lab, it was gratifying to see the capability being implemented as part of Operation Steel Eagle.
For Johnson, it was another day in the office – only the office was in a command center in a foreign country. But for new engineer Quinton Ford, it was an unprecedented experience. Ford was on the range when the combat aviation brigade took aim and the field artillery regiment hit the intended targets.
“I’ve learned that it’s important to know multiple areas well,” Ford said. “These systems that the military use are made up of several subsystems. Understanding how many things work helps make troubleshooting easier.
Ford refers to the concept as a system of systems – a collection of systems that together create more functionality. Every link must be up and running or the business fails. One of the main takeaways from the test for the team was the need for centralized system control to help troubleshoot any issues that arise.
“Interoperability between aviation and ground assets is paramount as we strategically fight our future battles,” said Miranda Oden, Technical Assistant for Lifecycle Engineering at the Executive.
Johnson said it’s important to bring new engineers on these types of tests to provide unique professional development not found in an office building.
“It helped me better understand the sacrifices that soldiers make,” Ford acknowledged. “When you’re behind the desk, you don’t really see the impact of your work.
“Seeing how much the soldiers enjoyed it makes what we do all the more rewarding.”