The Combat Aviation Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment became the first US Army aviation unit to perform a manned-unmanned teaming tactical exercise using its own Shadow (version 2) drones during an exercise dubbed “Operation Heavy Shadow” that was performed April 21-23 in the desert of Fort Bliss.
The training, which was the first to actually pair the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters of 3rd Squadron (aka Heavy Cav) with its newly acquired RQ-7B unmanned aircraft systems, focused on identifying high-value targets through Shadow reconnaissance then eliminating the threat as Apaches raided a training village.
“The Heavy Shadow training is the first time we are collectively training with our version 2 Shadow,” said R.J. Garcia, Heavy Cav commander. “When the exercise is complete, what we want to be able to do is to seamlessly integrate both Shadows and Apaches so that we take full advantage of the capabilities provided by both.”
Operation Heavy Shadow is part of a six-month long training regimen designed to familiarize the squadron’s Soldiers with the new technology.
Heavy Cav received the drones in January, making it the Army’s first attack reconnaissance battalion to fulfill the Aviation Restructuring Initiative’s greater emphasis on manned-unmanned teaming, or MUM-T, as the Army phases out its longtime scout aircraft, the OH-58 Kiowa.
“The exercise requires a team effort to accomplish a mission or destroy a target,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy Fry, mission operator for the training exercise. “The Shadows are the eyes that will tell the Apache where and when the enemy is present.”
The new technology has given Soldiers a greater advantage with close air support, climate data gathering and surveillance, said Fry.
“The new computer program (used by the version 2 Shadow) is far easier for Soldiers to learn and work with during combined-asset training and a real-life mission,” said Spc. Michael Grant, a standardization operator for 3rd Squad., 6th Cav. Regt. “It has provided us with a realistic version for how deployment will play out for the units and technology.”
3rd Squadron will apply its MUM-T training during a security mission in the Persian Gulf later this summer, when it replaces the CAB’s 4th Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, which has been operating out of Kuwait since December.
Garcia said that training exercises like Operation Heavy Shadow, involving dual air assets, will enhance his squadron’s versatility and combat presence.
“The Heavy Shadow training is really the culminating exercise for our upcoming deployment,” said Garcia. “We will be trained in all required deployment tasks to execute any missions given to us by our higher headquarters.”
That train-up was built in a tiered approach, starting with individual Soldier proficiency and evolving into tactical synchronicity at the platoon, troop and squadron levels.
“Most importantly, we are very excited about sharing our lessons learned so that the Aviation branch as a whole can collectively improve the MUM-T capability,” said Garcia.
The unit was officially recognized March 16 as the Army’s first heavy attack reconnaissance squadron, reflagging from 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment.
Over the next four and a half years, nine more Apache units across the Army are scheduled to make the same move.
Photo: An RQ-7B version 2 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Soldiers of 3rd Squardron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division prepares to land during field training at McGregor Range, N.M., April 27, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose D. Ramirez, Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs, 1st Armored Division)