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Pittsburgh-based Near Earth Autonomy (NEA) has developed unmanned aerial contingency management systems as part of a Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) for the Unmanned Logistics Systems Aerial (ULS-A) for DoD. US Army soldiers and US Marines conducted an operational demonstration of the system at Fort A P Hill, VA, last September, in which they were able to execute 64 realistic resupply missions, the company announced on 7 April.

The 2019 demonstration brought to a close the first year of the three-year JCTD programme. In time, autonomous resupply will support ground convoys and manned aircraft that today are at risk of attack when bringing frontline troops the supplies they need to conduct their missions.

Joe Fagan, ULS-A Operational Manager, emphasised the significance of the achievement. “This was the first opportunity for the military users to interact with the ULS-A capability. Whether they were uploading autonomy packages, downloading data, or operating as safety pilots, I was continually impressed with the breadth and depth of the Near Earth Autonomy Team.”

Robert McKinney, Technical Manager for the ULS-A JCTD at the Marine Corp Warfighter Lab, said “From a logistics standpoint, the Marines are looking to deliver small to medium weight supplies like water, beans, and ammunition to forward operating bases. We’re looking at fully autonomous rather than just manually operated vehicles. Without a man in the loop, losses are minimal and there are no humans at risk.” 

The technology marks a milestone in translating autonomous mobility into reality for the US military.  American defence leadership is actively exploring innovative new technologies to provide a significant advantage over less advanced adversaries.

USMC Master Gunnery Sergeant Ulrich said “I see a lot of applications in delivering in austere environments. In this way we’ll keep trucks off the road, we’ll keep Marines off the road and use technology to our advantage so that our troops can get what they need when they need it […] I think the Marines are adapting to the platforms because it is generationally relevant. The Marines of today look at it as something that enables them to do their job in a streamlined way. The training is minimal enough to allow them to adapt quickly. It’s able to help them stay out of the firefight themselves and they’ve responded by executing almost flawlessly […] I see the future of ULS-A eventually evolving into a medium-size platform that’s able to provide a diverse distribution portfolio. Within the JCTD year two and three, we’ll be looking at bigger, faster, stronger platforms, meaning more battery life, more distribution capability, and overall increasing the ability to keep the warfighter in the fight.”

Near Earth’s technology allows aircraft to autonomously take off, fly and land safely, with or without GPS access. (Photo via Near Earth Autonomy)

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