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    Army Ascends to the Next Frontier: Unmanned Aerial Prowess and Battlefield Innovation

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    The U.S. Army is charging into a new era, embracing drone technology as an integral part of its combat strategy and operations.

    In a sweeping transformation, units across the force are engaging in extensive experiments with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), responding to a clarion call for innovation from the top brass.

    Army Chief of Staff Randy George articulated the urgency, stating, “We’re going to see robotics inside the formation, on the ground and in the air.”

    He has been emphatic about the need for integrating more drones into the ranks, and the response has been a diverse and energetic effort at various levels of the Army.

    Captain Adam Johnson of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Gainey Company – an experimental hub for new technologies – highlights the shift in perception, asserting, “No longer is a drone just a safety net for soldiers on patrol. They have a purpose.”

    Under his guidance, Gainey’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems platoon is building low-cost, first-person-view drones from approved components, transforming drone usage from high-risk investments into more accessible tools for experimentation.

    Italian Army – 41st Regiment ‘Cordenons’ IA-3 Colibrì drone” by Italian Army is licensed under CC BY 2.5

    This hands-on approach is echoed in the 101st Airborne Division’s Multi-Functional Reconnaissance Company (MFRC), which integrates drones to spot and target enemy units with indirect fire. It signals a significant change in how intelligence and firepower are coordinated on the battlefield.

    The Army is not only focusing on the technical side but also the organizational aspect of drone operations. Johnson has pondered the merits of forming dedicated drone units, inspired by Ukraine’s successful use of such groups.

    “Doing so would create a culture of competition,” he states, comparing the effect to the Army’s medical platoons and simplifying the coordination of artillery fire.

    The enthusiasm for drone experimentation is not without its challenges and criticisms.

    Some Ukrainian soldiers have expressed concerns over the Army’s equipment and training gaps, especially regarding commercial drone use in combat, indicating a sense of urgency for the U.S. military to catch up.

    To narrow this gap, the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence launched the “Beehive Classic” drone competition, which combines physical challenges with drone navigation tasks.

    The event underscores the Army’s broader strategy to foster a culture of innovation and skill development in drone operations, with future iterations potentially incorporating artillery targeting exercises.

    Amid the service’s growing focus on drones, the Army should consider seeking out talented drone operators across its force, said Johnson of the 82nd.

    “We need to start rebalancing our massive amount of human intelligence capital to meet” the demand for drones, he said.

    Relevant articles:
    Across the Army, units lean into drone experimentation, Defense One
    Army Embraces Drones: Units Experiment With Unmanned Systems, DroneXL.co
    How the US Army Can Close its Dangerous—and Growing—Small Drone Gap, Modern War Institute –
    U.S. Army Moving Out with Small UAS, Inside Unmanned Systems

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