WEST FORT HOOD — Installation begins next month on a first-of-its-kind radar system at Robert Gray Army Airfield. The ground-based, sense-and-avoid radar system will paint a 3-D picture on a computer screen to help unmanned aircraft system operators know what’s flying around them.
It eventually could lead to allowing unmanned and manned aircraft to share airspace at Fort Hood — something currently prohibited.
“We’re green light, all systems go to get this up and running,” said Viva Kelley, product director for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration Concepts product office based at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. “In the end, it will provide them much safer and less restricted access.”
Fort Hood is home to two Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial System companies, which operate the Army’s largest, armed reconnaissance UAS. Fox and Echo companies are both part of 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. Fox was the first Gray Eagle company created in the Army in 2011 and has set precedent on many of today’s tactics, techniques and procedures.
The new radar — built from the requirements up — will provide a way for UAS operators to see airspace in 3-D and know if other aircraft are flying near them. Pilots of manned aircraft can do this on their own, and currently the Army uses soldiers on the ground to provide this information. UAS operators can only see the video feed the aircraft provides.
A subprogram in the radar, a classifier, can determine if the flying object is just a bird and dismiss nonthreats. Initial results show the program accurately sees 90 percent of birds, officials said.
“It should relieve some of the safety concerns,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Jackson, standardization instructor and UAS operator with Fox Company. He said he hopes the new radar will expand their flight opportunities at Fort Hood.
Once installed, the system will begin collecting data for about six to eight months. Tracking the data will allow operators to see if the radar is seeing everything, or missing two to three aircraft a day, Kelley said.
“We expect it to be up and running toward the end of the fiscal year,” she said. “We will be testing it between now and then.”
The system is very software intensive, so the team also is preparing for bugs and a growing period, because it is the first of its kind. As this testing takes place, Kelley said there won’t be any impact to the current work and training already underway on post, aside from providing assistance in creating procedures.
Gray Eagles currently operate out of West Fort Hood and can only take off and land when there are no commercial flights scheduled out of the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport. The new radar could expand their flight-time opportunities.
“Once we start using the system, we can integrate it into flights,” said Capt. Kyle Rogers, Fox Company commander. “Fox (Company) has been the first to field anything in the UAS world, and we look forward to be able to incorporate this into our day-to-day operations.”
Other installations scheduled to get the new radar system include Fort Drum, N.Y.; Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Fort Riley, Kan., which is next on the list.
“Fort Hood is ahead of everybody in the type of work they do and set the precedent,” Kelley said.