NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFPN) -- Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field near here is entering a new era in providing unmanned aerial vehicle support to the combat air force.
Currently the only installation with a fleet of operational remotely piloted aircraft, Indian Springs is now also the home of the Air Force’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Battlelab.
One of six original Air Force battlelabs established in 1997, this battlelab falls directly under the Air Warfare Center and recently moved to Indian Springs from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
“Battlelabs find problems, identify solutions and transition them to the warfighter,” said Col. Larry Felder, who commands the unit and also assisted with developing the Air Force’s original battlelab concept.
The battlelab’s mission is to work UAV problems and then go to industry, academia, and service and national labs system for solutions, the colonel said.
“Once potential solutions are found, we conduct objective demonstrations to see if the technology, concept, tactics or procedures will actually work and transition the solution to our warfighters,” Colonel Felder said.
He believes Indian Springs is an ideal location for the battlelab.
“Indian Springs is a great place to take UAV Battlelab initiatives into the next decade,” Colonel Felder said. “We had numerous successes while the (battlelab) was at Eglin, but the sphere of strategic UAV activity is on the West Coast.
Besides the Predators at Indian Springs, Global Hawks will soon be at Beale AFB, Calif., and the unmanned combat aerial vehicle is being developed at the Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif., the colonel said.
“We also have a great relationship with the Navy which is doing its own UAV development in the west at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (Calif.) and Naval Air Station Fallon (Nev.),” he said. “In addition, there is intelligence gathering for UAVs at Beale and our air reserve component is assisting with analysis in Reno, (Nev.)”
Even though the battlelab core is on the West Coast, small UAV activities will still be staying at Eglin. The battlelab will continue to improve the Air Force’s ability to execute the mission and support joint warfighting initiatives, said the colonel.
“We’re currently going through a buildup process,” Colonel Felder said. “We have moved the majority of the organization across country and are building a new team. The key to our immediate future success will be our operating location at Eglin. (Besides) managing our small UAV program, Eglin is the seed corn of knowledge and will be integral to training the new people out here.”
Besides subject-matter experts at Eglin, the battlelab relies on liaisons outside the organization for assistance.
“With the help of six liaisons from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Electronics Systems Center and reserve components, our battlelab has the ability to reach back into the Air Force lab system, reach forward into the acquisition system to move technologies from one system to another and look at the mission from a total-force perspective,” Colonel Fedner said.
Initially aligned under the Air Warfare Center’s 53rd Wing, control of the battlelab transferred to the Aerospace Command and Control and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on March 1, 1999. Control of the battlelab returned to the Air Warfare Center in April 2002 as the UAV mission evolved to include weapons delivery, forward-air control and surface attack.
Since its inception, battlelab initiatives have decreased the time it takes for UAV products to reach decision makers. Officials have also been able to improve UAV target precision coordinates from sensors and enhance integration with other airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. Battlelab officials have also enhanced the UAV’s ability to operate in civil airspace, improved friendly force combat identification and illuminated enemy ground targets for attack.
Battlelab officials are also looking ahead.
“We are looking at numerous items for the future,” Colonel Felder said. “UAVs originally gave us intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but that has changed with additional roles. We are seeing UAVs used more in the shooter role, and aircraft, such as the unmanned combat aerial vehicle, will give us the capability to carry multiple payloads, pull high G-forces, penetrate airspace that hasn’t been penetrated before and hit high-risk targets without jeopardizing our pilots’ lives.”
Colonel Felder said his vision of the future is clear.
“Our mission is really very simple -- help combatant commanders and warfighters win the global war on terrorism,” he said. “The (battlelab force) must exploit any and all the capabilities we can to help destroy the enemy of today and preserve the peace of tomorrow.”