Cadets Enhance Tactical Skills With CLDT Drone Training
by Jorge Garcia
United States Military Academy at West Point
August 8, 2022
Improving data collection and communication
methods on the battlefield is an ever-evolving process at the U.S.
Military Academy. Because of this, professors in the Department of
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science lent their robotics
expertise to cadets to expand their training in battlefield tactics
through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) during Cadet
Leadership Development Training from July 26-28, 2022.
members at EECS ordered the parts to build the drones and programmed
coded algorithms that would allow cadets to control and maneuver the
technology in various ways.
Organized at the forest grounds
of Camp Shea, senior and junior cadets engaged in notional yet
dynamic combat scenarios that developed their techniques and
procedures to react to small UAVs during a firefight. Cadets also
learned how to leverage the drone’s intelligence gathering,
surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as they explored
how to execute lethal engagements to discriminate and distinguish
between notional friendlies and enemy combatants.
July 27, 2022 - Dr. Michael Novitzky, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, instructs cadets on how to pilot the Parrot Anafi drone during Cadet Leadership Development Training at the U.S. Military Academy. Their mission... to monitor and identify the notional enemy within close proximity of the platoon’s position while they perform battle drills. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Army photo by Jorge Garcia, United States Military Academy at West Point)
all of the training conducted during CLDT was influenced by how
researchers at EECS created the drones.
They installed the
motors, applied speed controllers, fitted propellers and wiring,
installed the power distribution and management and applied the
flight controller on the battery compartment, essentially building
everything from scratch, Col. Christopher Korpela, the director of
the Robotics Research Center, said.
“There’s benefits to
applying the pieces yourself and adding additional features that can
assist cadets out in the field,ˮ Korpela added. “If one wanted to
add certain payloads, cameras and we want to add an acoustic sensor,
we want to add a lidar, we want to add a high end inertial
navigation system for really accurate information on your location —
we can customize it.ˮ
Cadets were issued several distinct
drone models, each with its own specific features. The Skydio 2
drone was among the cheaper models, which can fly for 15-20 minutes
and gives you a standard birdʼs eye view of whatʼs happening on the
The Skydio X2D is one of the more advanced drones
fitted with unique features, including obstacle avoidance, which
allows the drone to detect and avoid obstacles in its path. The X2D
also has thermal imaging cameras that can detect heat signatures,
which enabled cadets, during training, to detect enemies hiding
under thick foliage. Finally, the Parrot Anafi drone holds a
slightly longer battery life and thermal imaging features.
“Cadets typically use the drone for several things, the first thing
is to check their positions to see if they’re exposed to the enemy
because we know that the opponent also has the same technological
capabilities, so platoon leaders want to make sure their platoons
are strategically hidden,ˮ Dr. Michael Novitzky, an assistant
professor in the EECS Department, said. “Second is cadets are always
looking for the enemy location, their size and their methods of
maneuverability. The third use, which has the most significant
impact, is calling indirect fire.ˮ
Class of 2023 Cadet
Christian Litton experienced this first hand as he led a platoon to
victory during training. However, his path to victory came with
failures that helped him understand which direction to take in
operating the drones and using his map in the most effective way
“I was a platoon leader for the very first lane
for CLDT in my platoon. I didn’t coordinate that lane very well
because it was the first time I did this,ˮ Litton said. “...One of
the main mistakes I made was I did not get eyes on the enemy before
I maneuvered my platoon. One of the biggest advantages that ISR
drone platforms provide is I, as the commander in combat training,
can see the chess board and observe where the pieces are so I can
maneuver my pieces to the safest and most strategically secure
With the drone’s bird’s eye view, Litton
obtained information on the enemy's location. Soon after, he would
use the enemy disposition to maneuver his gun teams and effectively
call for indirect fire.
“This method of combat is something
that weʼre seeing a lot of in eastern Europe right now —
coordinating firefights between drones and between infantry on the
ground or even drones deploying explosives from above,ˮ Litton said.
“We were able to confirm that the enemy was moving to Building 5, in
the notional village, through the combination of map reading and
information we gathered from the drone.ˮ
The drone pilot
moved to various locations in the forest based on Littonʼs
calculated intuition. Then, he called for fire onto Building 5 and
eliminated an entire enemy squad, which was approximately an eighth
of the enemy’s forces.
“He made sure his communication
equipment was intact. He kept a topographic map on him to identify
and monitor where his people were and then narrowed that battlefield
down,ˮ Novitzky said. “When he got a new report he updated his map.
I was like, ‘man, battle tracking? This guy is on another level.’
The reason I bring him up is that during the exercise when he was
talking to the drone operator, you can hear he was actively looking
for new information to notate and apply it to the success of his
The training concluded and Novitzky needed feedback
on the effectiveness of the drones. An After Action Review was held.
That’s when he asked Litton, “how was the drone useful? Was
the drone not useful at times? What would you improve?ˮ
Litton said he and his team were able to get a bird's eye view of
the landscape and get confirmation on sightings on the size of the
enemy. So, whenever he found that the enemy was down in numbers,
that would help him figure out, on the map, what elements he would
look for to make an educated decision.
“After the AAR, he
came back to me with a request, he goes, ‘I want it to be faster.’
So, we were talking about that and I was like, ‘well there are some
limitations to speeding it up, but what if we put two drones up?
Would that be better?ʼ He said it would be,ˮ Novitzky said.
Novitzky added how humbling the experience was working with cadets
and watching them take the department’s research off the ground.
“I’m living my research dream right now,ˮ Novitzky said. “I was
allowed to do some research where people were somewhat stressed in
using my tech. I learned some basic lessons like communication
equipment is super important. If the tech you develop fails a cadet,
he or she is going to stop using it. Being able to come to West
Point and incorporate my research to summer training like this is
just taking it to a whole other level.ˮ
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