Beyond the Shadow: FTUAS Competition’s Next Phase

Beyond the Shadow: FTUAS Competition’s Next Phase Drone News
Beyond the Shadow: FTUAS Competition’s Next Phase
Preflight inspection of the L3Harris FVR-90. RIGHT: The Martin V-BAT, about to tail-sit.

Army solicitations are accelerating the hunt to discover a cellular, quiet and multi-payload brigade-level successor(s) to the venerable Shadow.

On Sept. 3, the U.S. Army obtained the eye of the navy UAS world accelerating the hunt to discover a when it introduced it was soliciting white papers for Increment 1 of its Future Tactical UAS program. Per a two-stage course of to search out a number of brigade-level successors to the RQ-7 Shadow, the finally chosen low to medium altitude plane would function because the service’s major day/night time surveillance and goal acquisition system. “This requirement is for a totally built-in FTUAS system; not simply an air automobile,” the solicitation declared. The worth of this next-generation program has been put as excessive as $1 billion.

The name for submissions despatched potential distributors scrambling: candidates got two weeks to reply, a deadline later prolonged to Oct. 2. Respondents would come with earlier “finalists” that had vied towards one another in flyoffs: AeroVironment™ and its JUMP 20®; L3Harris™ with its quadrotor FVR-90; Martin UAV and its V-BAT tail-sitter; and Textron Systems per its Aerosonde™ HQ” (every firm makes its case within the sidebars that accompany this text). But Army spokespersons emphasised that this was to not be a closed competitors.

Matters accelerated, when, on Sept. 30, the Army launched a Request for Prototype for Increment 1, with replies due by the tip of October. An further Increment 2 Request for White Papers was launched on Oct. 1.

The search to succeed Shadow inside brigade fight groups has contracted and expanded over the previous few years. To perceive its pulsations, Inside Unmanned Systems sought out Lt. Col. Ryan Greenawalt, the Pennsylvania National Guardsman who’s serving as this system’s future unmanned programs integrator. Greenawalt, who works out of the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, turned our wingman, guiding us by FTUAS historical past, the choice course of and the next-generation capabilities being sought. (His further insights will be discovered inside our MUM-T article package deal.)

“Increment One shall be an preliminary functionality we need to get out to the troopers as shortly as doable,” Greenawalt defined. “The plan is to get that fielded to a restricted variety of items in fiscal yr ’23.

“Increment Two,” he continued, “goes to be the speedy prototyping effort. It will sort of work in parallel. I’m nonetheless undecided how that’s going to work out, however they’re most likely going to pick out three to 4 distributors after which do a aggressive prototyping occasions beginning subsequent yr.” Upgrades would observe. “Then, in FYI ’24, they may most likely do the precise program of document contract. ’25 will begin this system of document fielding.”

Greenawalt’s warning: “I need to be very clear: The chosen vendor may very well be somebody exterior of these 4 within the demo.”

Beyond the Shadow: FTUAS Competition’s Next Phase
The AeroVironment JUMP 20, making a vertical touchdown.


Mentions of “shortly” and “speedy” recalled the good physicist Albert Einstein’s idea that point is relative. After all, the varied timelines across the quest for the FTUAS have shifted from stately to speedy to someplace in between. Textron’s TUAS (tactical unmanned plane system) Shadow first flew in 1991, and the Shadow 200 turned operational in 1999 because the Army’s brigade-level tactical UAS. The Shadow not solely met Army necessities for electro-optic/infrared imaging and four-hour, on-station endurance however doubled a name for a 31-mile minimal vary. It was additionally deployed by each the U.S. Marine Corps and different nations. The 7B model appeared in 2004, once more greater than doubling vary, extending official endurance to 6 hours and providing elevated communication functionality. Its run continues—launched in 2020, the Shadow Block III lowered noise and improved communication. The Army ordered new and upgraded Shadow Block IIIs as not too long ago as March 2021.

Greenawalt sourced at the moment’s FTUAS operational requirement again to a few totally different 2017-18 operational wants statements calling for a forward-deployed system that may very well be quickly set as much as function runway-independently, and be straightforward to fly quietly over troublesome terrain or closely defended positions. “They had been mainly saying, ‘Hey, you realize, the Shadow has been a fantastic asset for us for the previous 20 years,” he defined. “But as we look ahead to MDO [multidomain operations], we should be extra agile, lighter; we have to quickly deploy, with VTOL functionality. We want one thing to exchange Shadow. It’s finished its job. It’s been a workhorse for us. We want one thing extra maneuverable, one thing we are able to talk with on the transfer, one thing we are able to get into theater in a short time, with minimal strategic airlift. That’s how the precise requirement took place.”

He continued: “The Shadow is tethered to airfields. It comes with a ton of apparatus. The GCS [ground control stations] are humongous, labor-intensive and logistics-intensive.”

The next-generation FTUAS will draw on one thing that’s actually speedy: advances in software program precision, effectivity and portability. “It will be vertical takeoff and touchdown—that’s the transformational functionality,” Greenawalt added. “They’re super-small, they’re mild, they’ll just about be launched from wherever—you’re speaking a few laptops and a few screens. They have command and management On-The-Move (OTM) functionality. The troopers are in a position to mount an antenna on the again of a Humvee and transfer throughout the CTC [combat training center] or battlefield with a pill.

“We see these autos being organically maintained. They’re quite simple. Shoot, it took the troopers only a week or two to coach up on these programs.

“Sound signature is one other enormous one,” Greenawalt mentioned concerning the want for substitute. “You can’t conceal the Shadow; it feels like a freight practice. These [new] issues, they make somewhat little bit of noise while you use the VTOL battery and are literally taking off. But when in ahead flight, they’re virtually undetectable.” (Textron Systems stories that the Shadow Block III reduces the acoustic signature by 60%.)

As all the time, there shall be trade-offs. “Shadow has extra payload capability. And they’ve extra vary, as a result of they journey somewhat sooner. However, the FTUAS has extra endurance. And while you’re not tethered to an airfield, you possibly can transfer this stuff ahead. The payloads are smaller and lighter as properly.”

Beyond the Shadow: FTUAS Competition’s Next Phase

Textron Systems’ Aerosonde HQ, good to go.


The FTUAS can present what Army paperwork describe as “a definite tactical benefit attributable to elevated maneuverability by vertical takeoff and touchdown, improved command and management (C2) with an On-The-Move (OTM functionality), a lowered transportability and logistics footprint, in addition to considerably improved survivability attributable to lowered sound signature.”

Modular payloads are to incorporate electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, laser designator and vary finder, fashionable information hyperlinks and encryption. Advanced Teaming capabilities are also known as for (see the sooner “FTUAS Requirements: Among the Attributes” field).

Along with the specs, a Capability Requirements Document required sections on how every submission addresses threats and outline capabilities, key efficiency parameters and competencies, and particulars on attributes, spectrum necessities, intelligence supportability, weapon security assurance, know-how readiness and affordability. It additionally asks for DOTMLPF-P concerns—this enables leaders to investigate organizational capabilities by doctrine, group, coaching, materiel, management, personnel, amenities and coverage for future strategic selections.

Again, the federal government is explicitly open to firms making use of, which can properly occur, since 23 corporations responded to a earlier Request for Information.


In 2019, the Army performed a fly-off with 9 totally different business off-the-shelf FTUAS distributors at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Two firms—Martin UAV and its V-BAT and Textron’s AAI Aerosonde—had been requested to develop a VTOL successor that may ship superior but versatile ISR and situational consciousness, with faster setup by fewer troopers. But a problem expanded the downselection to incorporate the L3Harris FVR-90 and the AeroVironment (then Arcturus) JUMP 20.

“We put these programs inside 5 brigade fight groups and we demonstrated them for 12 months,” Greenawalt added, “gathering after-action opinions, classes realized.” Then, this March, throughout a weeklong ‘Rodeo’ at Fort Benning, Georgia, “all of the troopers got here again out and demonstrated the programs one final time for Army senior leaders and every other events inside the usenterprise. We wished to see, ‘Where’s the know-how at?’”

Simplicity got here to the fore. “When we introduced the troopers again to the Rodeo, a few of them hadn’t been with their system in over six months. It actually took them sooner or later—super-easy to coach”.

Feedback from platoon to command ranges was processed. “It’s to not say the programs had been good. Some did higher than others,” Greenawalt mentioned, with out figuring out them. “There had been strengths and weaknesses with every system.” Still, “the flexibleness offered brigade commanders in assembly their mission was simply unmatched. Every single unit mentioned, ‘hands-down, we’d take this technique over what we have now at the moment’” (see our protection at

Ironically, the findings had been a humiliation of riches; they didn’t slender the sector. But they allowed the Army to refine its draft necessities and abbreviated functionality improvement paperwork. In August, AROC, the Army Requirements Oversight Council, accredited the doc setting out the going-forward FTUAS necessities.

Beyond the Shadow: FTUAS Competition’s Next Phase


“We’re going about this in two separate increments,” Greenawalt reiterated. “Increment 1 can get capabilities to the warfighter now, But, he famous, some candidates would possibly sit out the primary increment after which compete “for being this system of document.” Also, the eventual selection could contain a number of variants. “With the velocity that this know-how is maturing at, I feel it’s an actual iterative strategy. Whoever will get that contract in ’24 and we begin fielding in ’25, this positively isn’t going to be a program like Shadow, for 20-something years.

“Do we begin , ‘Hey, possibly a few of our lighter items want such a functionality and possibly a few of our heavy items have this mission and possibly this greater air automobile truly works higher for them?’ There’s so much to be decided, however I do know we’re very versatile in our minds.”

Greenawalt’s clock was positively ticking loudly. “We’re super-excited. Usually, to get this stuff within the subject, it takes years. The Other Transaction Authorities give much more flexibility in how they subject. To be capable to do a Rodeo right here in ’21 and say we’ll have it on contract and have some programs within the subject in ’23 is nice, in the event you ask me.”


When main UAS developer AeroVironment™ accomplished its acquisition of Arcturus UAV this previous February, AeroVironment CEO Wahid Nawabi mentioned the transfer, would “increase our attain into the extra invaluable Group 2 and three UAS segments.” AeroVironment sees the JUMP 20 because the automobile to do this.

Arcturus alum Phil Mahill directs enterprise improvement for AeroVironment’s MUAS product line. “We’re nonetheless vertically built-in: carbon is available in one facet of the constructing and airplanes exit the opposite,” he mentioned concerning the contribution emanating from what was Arcturus’ Petaluma, California, facility. Just as necessary, he famous, is how AeroVironment’s know-how brings added benefit. The outcome: “We’re bringing a bigger intelligence image to all of our prospects.”


The new Army necessities, Mahill agreed, are a response to speedy technological acceleration. “Buying one thing off the shelf is one factor; having or not it’s related in 5 years is one other,” he mentioned. “There’s fixed strain for bettering efficiency. My opinion is, solely a handful of credible firms can do it,” that means actually assembly a number of FTUAS standards.

Simi Valley, California-centered AeroVironment, he feels, can stick the FTUAS touchdown with extra mission worth per flight. “There’s simply an enormous quantity of mission flexibility. Some of our prospects are actually compressing mission timelines and getting most use out of the plane. It’s extra functionality per flight hour than every other Group 3 platform,” he claimed.

The massive automobile (215 kilos most takeoff weight) can exceed the Army’s upgraded necessities requiring 25 kilos of payload (previously 5), providing as much as 30 kilos usable payload now with an goal of 45 kilos. It can surpass unique necessities similar to eight hours of endurance, claiming 14-plus hours, together with an operational vary of 115 miles.

Mahill lasered in on how JUMP 20 addresses the Army’s MOSA open programs payload requirement. “Our avionics structure homes the autopilot however may also home a separate mission pc for internet hosting quite a lot of apps similar to automated goal recognition. The avionics field permits us to actually plug and play—information hyperlinks, payloads, cameras. We crew with our prospects to get best-in-class and newest know-how into the plane.”

Yet, Mahill added, it’s straightforward to function. “We would like to do one other Rodeo. The troopers mentioned, ‘This is the simplest plane I’ve ever maintained.’”


“Our unique [Arcturus] flagship was the T-20,” Mahill defined, recalling that catapult-launched, belly-landing craft. “The T-20 was distinctive in its skill to only keep aloft; we nonetheless have 24 hours of endurance. But we acknowledged that almost all of our prospects simply didn’t want that degree, and would favor VTOL functionality as a trade-off. We noticed the rising VTOL market as a possible to offer a singular functionality. We would get rid of the launch or restoration gear, however nonetheless have the identical excessive payload capability and excessive endurance.”

Mahill summarized his argument for the JUMP 20. “I feel we’re extra harmful than ever for our rivals. The partnership with AV integrates a brand new functionality—all the pieces the opposite guys are engaged on of their know-how improvement highway maps we are able to leverage into the JUMP. This system is multisensor. We’re sort of heading within the path of a mini-Predator, and it prices so much much less. I simply don’t know if anybody else is doing what we’re doing.”


To be truthful, we’re the younger child on the block. But I’m very happy with the capabilities that we deliver to bear, in comparison with a few of the different guys.”

Peter Blocker, director, Tactical UAS, at protection large L3Harris™ Technologies, doesn’t cede primary capabilities to the opposite candidates. But he concentrated the case for the FVR-90 round flexibility, payloads/endurance and digital engineering. In half, these got here from two acquisitions and mergers.

In 2018, Latitude Engineering was acquired by what was then L3. This accessed each automobile and key quadrotor flight transition software program (older variations of it are nonetheless utilized by some rivals). The second booster was the depth and assets provided by the 2019 merger between L3 and Harris Corporation.

“This is a purpose-built VTOL plane,” Blocker mentioned, citing the model-based programs engineering strategy developed inside L3Harris. “We’ve embraced this to herald applied sciences faster, sooner,” he mentioned. “The entire system is digitized, the software program, the {hardware}, the place you possibly can plug in a 3D mannequin, plug within the new software program after which shortly fly it in a simulation to see how properly it really works out.

“The Army talks about MOSA [modular open systems approach], or they discuss digital engineering these necessities. L3Harris has a reasonably superior mannequin of tips on how to do it. And we’re ensuring that that’s a part of our deliverable to the federal government.”


“One of the important thing issues about our programs is the flexibility to hold an amazing quantity of payload versus gross takeoff weight,” Blocker mentioned. “Our gross takeoff weight is on the order of 120 kilos and we are able to carry a helpful load of fifty kilos throughout your gas and the precise weight of your payloads. Typically, we run about 10 hours of endurance on 20 to 22 kilos of gas; thus, it brings you about just below 30 kilos for the precise payload. We can hold 10 kilos or beneath on every increase, coupled with an EO/IR ball within the nostril. We can carry as much as about 22 kilos within the nostril alone.

“It will be very expeditionary,” he continued. “It is usually a logistics chicken, it could do ISR, we’ve already discovered some EW payloads on it. Coupled with the digital mannequin, issues will be built-in very fast.”

The FVR-90 run-up has supported steady enchancment, Blocker mentioned. “We made a dozen, 15 adjustments to the system during the last yr, and every buyer knew about each single one among them the complete time. For occasion, we didn’t have the potential of recharging our VTOL batteries in flight. We do now.”

Such upgrading will proceed. “One of the feedback at Rodeo was that if an enemy was watching they might know precisely the place the items work. So we have now concepts of tips on how to change software program to the place we take off in a totally totally different method to not present precisely the place the command middle is.”

Blocker returned to L3Harris’ developmental paradigm for FTUAS. “We’re good with ensuring that the tip buyer will get what they need—on this case, a real digital-engineering or model-based programs engineering strategy to permit the tip buyer to combine third-party software program and purposes {hardware} very quickly. That’s one among our key strengths that we’re going for.”


Group 2 transportability, group 3 capability.” That’s the case, Heath Niemi, VP of enterprise improvement for Shield AI, makes for Martin UAV’s V-BAT 128 being the FTUAS selection. “It’s Group 2 transportability by weight; it’s Group 3 successful.”

At the Army’s FTUAS Rodeo in March, the Martin V-BAT was distinctive as a tail-sitter. Then in July, the Plano, Texas, firm turned the newest of our FTUAS 4’s enterprise acquisitions with its buy by San Diego-based synthetic intelligence agency Shield AI. The outcome will enable the combination of Shield’s Hivemind® AI autonomy stack with the V-BAT, enabling GPS- and communications-denied operations and swarming.

Niemi, who spent 25 years in Army aviation, famous that the Martin’s earlier V-BAT 118 had proved itself as the primary VTOL to fly on a Coast Guard vessel and with the Marine Corps, Martin UAV’s oldest buyer. He added that the V-BAT was evolving even through the Rodeo: While the 118 mannequins was being formally evaluated, Niemi was demonstrating the 128 in one other train. “I used to be a quarter-mile down the highway, flying for infantry platoons.”

To clarify the 128’s improved capabilities, Niemi cited a “10% rule” inside UAS circles. “They imagine that the max gross weight, not together with eight hours of usable gas, there’s a couple of 10% ratio for usable payload.” The V-BAT 128’s engine provides 11 horsepower, with upgraded ducts and different enhancements. “That has produced a tremendous quantity of additional energy,” Niemi mentioned. “On a 125-pound drone [the 128’s weight], you’ll assume we’d solely have 12.5 kilos of usable payload; we’ve elevated the payload capability from eight kilos to 25, so, we’re over 20%.”

He continued: “We’ve elevated the endurance to 11 hours. We have 130 kilometers [81 miles] vary.” Interchangeable payloads will be deployed, and in September, Martin UAV and Northrop Grumman performed flight testing of a V-BAT with GPS-denied navigation and different capabilities. “I feel the V-BAT has uniquely fitted to Group 3-sized payloads.”


Niemi turned to “transportability and tactical flexibility” as V-BAT 128 benefits. “It will be moved in a Black Hawk helicopter, a Humvee or at the back of an F-150 pickup,” he mentioned. Setup time by two troopers is put at half-hour; the footprint at 12 toes by 12 toes. Hovering functionality shall be elevated. Then, Niemi mentioned, “I can conceal behind a set of bushes and my ISR payload can go searching. You can think about taking off at the back of a constructing or”—recalling latest headlines—” an embassy.”

Even because the Army deliberates over Increment 1, Niemi described how the V-BAT has expanded to assist different branches. “Our drone is uniquely fitted to maritime operations,” he mentioned, noting the 128 profitable prototyping contract on this April’s U.S. Navy Mi2 Technology Demonstration. “We know tips on how to do spares kits for 45 days at sea with no logistic resupply, we all know tips on how to fly in saltwater, we all know tips on how to fly in winds which might be turbulent on the deck, gusty, unpredictable.

“It actually is a joint service answer,” Niemi mentioned concerning the V-BAT, a part of a plan to make its know-how extra successful and scalable, together with for business purposes. “When you have a look at the program’s ramp-up,” Niemi declared, “we have now a tremendous highway map.”


The Aerosonde HQ—as in hybrid quadrotor—has been scaled up and purpose-built to fulfill the Army’s said necessities. In doing so, it attracts on practically 550,000 operational hours that Textron has flown on the Aerosonde platform, as properly at 1.3 million hours on the Shadow platform with the Army.

“Incumbency is necessary,” mentioned Wayne Prender, senior vp, air programs for Textron Systems, which manufactures in 16 nations. “What it supplies us is an intimate understanding of how these programs are utilized out within the subject, listening to what their necessities are.” Now Aerosonde HQ seeks to leverage that incumbency to exchange the Shadow on the brigade degree. “The Army has clearly recognized the necessity for a system that’s extra agile and responsive than the Shadow system,” Prender added. “We firmly imagine that what the Army’s asking for here’s a combat-proven system that has no room for failure.”


In its earlier incarnations, Aerosonde made its mark as a meteorological climate and analysis automobile. “Flying into hurricanes required a very sturdy plane, an excessive reliability that offered info that had by no means been gained earlier than,” Prender mentioned. “We took our Shadow expertise and started to militarize or ruggedize the system for the navy.” By 2016, an Aerosonde VTOL Hybrid Quadrotor (HQ) was providing ISR capabilities.

Today, a small footprint and speedy setup rank among the many necessities Prender believed Aerosonde HQ might be greater than meet. “The BCT at Fort Polk, [Louisiana], they actually took our system put it in a Black Hawk, flew right into a touchdown zone, and had been up and operational in lower than half-hour.”

The Aerosonde has advanced from a catapult craft to what the corporate calls “no stands or arms.”

“There isn’t any want for not solely the prevailing launch and restoration system our Shadow system requires, nevertheless it has no want for stands or jacks and even soldier-assisted launch and restoration,” Prender defined. “Our system is about up, the blokes are in a position to again away from it and the system autonomously takes off, transitions, strikes out, execute the mission set. It autonomously identifies a restoration location and transitions right into a vertical descent and simply touches down on the bottom.”

Prender additionally praised sister firm Lycoming Engines for its dependable energy plant. “We have amassed over 550,000 flight hours with our Aerosonde product utilizing solely a heavy gas engine,” he mentioned. Since the Aerosonde HQ runs on frequent JP-8 gas, “that minimizes any logistical considerations about transferring gas or components throughout the battlefield. That’s positively one thing that we’re an agency believer in, and we’re going to carry to as we proceed to evolve our system.”

Another facet of ruggedness is with the ability to function within the sort of foul climate that might floor the Shadow. Rain resistance has been upgraded to 2 inches per hour. Other enhancements embody higher standing vary with improved payloads, a TASE400 LD long-range concentrating on payload and a mission pc that may match an evolving use case.

“We are very pleased to see this functionality be offered into the arms of troopers, and made operational in a short time,” Prender concluded. “We imagine Aerosonde HQ is completely located to offer the brigade fight groups with the agility and maneuverability they should assist their struggle. As the incumbent for 20 years, facet by facet with the Army, we are able to do a minimum of to offer our greatest effort.”

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