Sgt. Keven Parry
The Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division is planning on adding a new combat strength to their capabilities in March with the addition of an unmanned aerial system company.
F Company, CAB, will contribute to the brigade’s mission by flying the Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). Although the company, known in the military as Fenix, is already operationally part of the CAB, their official stand up occurs this spring.
Fenix Company will provide the CAB with long-reaching unmanned support through the abilities of the Gray Eagle, an unmanned combat aircraft. Some of its key features are the ability to stay airborne longer than other manned and unmanned platforms, the ability to integrate with CAB attack helicopters, and the ability to engage targets on the ground.
“It’s a multiple asset that the commander can use for many different situations,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffrey Stokes, the F Co. commander.
Stokes has seen both the strengths and challenges that Fenix has faced during the process of building F Co. Challenges such as finding sufficient air space for training and adapting to software updates to the Gray Eagle platform have kept the Soldiers of F Co in a constant state of learning and training.
Despite the challenges, the Soldiers of Fenix Company know that they provide advantages to troops on the battlefield.
“The biggest thing I think we bring is the fact that we can stay in the air for a long time,” Stokes said.
According to operators in F Co, the Gray Eagle can provide nearly 24 hours of coverage while in a reconnaissance configuration. This ability almost quadruples the flight time of the Shadow, a similar UAS.
In addition to the reconnaissance configuration, the Gray Eagle can be configured to become an asset to aircraft over the battlefield.
Stokes said Gray Eagle operators have learned how to interact with aircraft pilots from all branches of the military in order to provide support. For the CAB, these interactions can provide helicopter pilots with additional options.
“There’s a lot of different ways that we can team up with their attack helicopters,” said Sgt. Richard Kinney, a Fenix UAS operator.
Apache pilots not only have the ability to communicate vocally with operators, but they can also see the payload that the Gray Eagle is carrying. And with the introduction of the Apache Block III aircraft, scheduled to reach the CAB in March, pilots can actually take control of the payload, Kinney said.
“We can have a much larger impact on the battlefield,” said Spc. David Walsh, a Fenix UAS operator.
Ultimately, Gray Eagle operators will have the capability to acquire and engage targets on their own, according to the needs of the ground troops or the ground commander.
The writer is assigned to the public affairs office of the Combat Aviation Brigade.