Army Expanding UAS Fleet, Speeding Up Delivery
By Dialogo January 31, 2011
The Army is speeding up delivery of some of its newer Unmanned Aircraft System assets such as the Gray Eagle and expanding the size and range of its overall fleet to include a Family of Small UAS and a Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing UAS, service officials said.
“We’re going to accelerate Gray Eagle yet again. We’re accelerating from two systems per year to three systems per year, which will result in seventeen systems being procured by FY 2014,” said Tim Owings, deputy project manager for Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
A Defense Acquisition Board in February of this year is expected to confirm the addition of two more Low Rate Initial Production Gray Eagle systems – each consisting of 12 air vehicles, five ground control stations and five additional attrition vehicles, Owings said.
Two Gray Eagles Deployed
The Army has already deployed two Gray Eagle “Quick Reaction Capabilities.” One QRC is now flying with Army Soldiers in Iraq and another is with U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, Owings said.
The 28-foot-long surveillance aircraft has a 56-foot wingspan and is able to beam images from up to 29,000 feet for more than 24 hours at a time.
The QRC Gray Eagle aircraft are equipped with a laser designator, Signals Intelligence capability and an Electro-Optical/Infrared camera designed to survey the ground below, track enemy movements and hone in on targets. They are also equipped to carry HELLFIRE missiles, Owings said.
“We did just complete the weaponization of QRC 1 in Iraq. We now have flown flights in Iraq with the full weapons suite. They will have to go through a safety certification process on a firing range before they are allowed to go live,” Owings said.
The QRC concept is designed to bring needed technologies to the battlefield in advance of a formal program of record in order to sharpen requirements and get desired capability in the hands of Soldiers sooner.
The Gray Eagle program will also go through a configuration change which will allow the Army to divide the systems up into three platoon-sized elements, Owings said. This will allow the Army to keep some aircraft back in the United States for training purposes while keeping most of the systems forward-positioned in theater.