FTUAS: Replacing the RQ-7B Shadow

FTUAS: Replacing the RQ-7B Shadow

Soldiers from the third Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, TX, conduct pre-flight inspections on the L3Harris FVR-90 unmanned plane system.

For greater than 20 years, the RQ-7 Shadow tactical unmanned plane system, produced by Textron Systems subsidiary AAI Corp., has served as a workhorse for the U.S. Army’s floor maneuver brigade fight groups (BCTs). Now, the Army is on the lookout for a substitute to offer much more flexibility on the battlefield.

Specifically, in response to Operational Need Statements from a number of corps and division commanders, the Army is fielding a Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) that’s runway-independent, organically transportable and has a decreased acoustic signature, mentioned Jim Thomson, appearing deputy/senior advisor for the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team (CFT). The system chosen would be the major UAS for day/evening, reconnaissance, surveillance and goal acquisition, offering commanders with situational consciousness.

Four potential VTOL techniques had been demonstrated throughout a rodeo in March, a fruits of a yearlong soldier touchpoint that gave BCTs the chance to check doable replacements. The UAS that had been a part of the touchpoint and the rodeo embrace Martin UAV’s V-Bat, Textron Systems’ Aerosonde Hybrid Quad, L3Harris’ FVR-90 and AeroVironment’s Arcturus JUMP 20.

“FTUAS will probably be used for related missions we see immediately for the RQ7-B Shadow; nevertheless, providing extra versatile, progressive and agile methods of using techniques, methods and procedures,” Thomson mentioned. “FTUAS will not be solely changing into extra expeditionary however will ship further functionality and battlefield sensors and results for the Brigade Combat Team Commander in a modular and upgradable structure.”

The VBAT from Martin UAV

THE RODEO

The Army has adopted a “Buy, Fly, Inform” method to creating a Future Tactical UAS, Thomson mentioned, and the rodeo offered a possibility for senior leaders to see the outcomes of its efforts. Held at Fort Benning, Georgia, in early March, the rodeo additionally allowed troopers from the 5 BCTs who examined the varied techniques to watch the opposite UAS and change concepts primarily based on their experiences.

“The FTUAS Rodeo was extraordinarily profitable,” Thomson mentioned. “In addition to highlighting Army Futures Command progressive approaches to modernizing our Army, the ultimate enter from the troopers was collected and set situations for the Army to speed up finalizing extraordinarily well-informed necessities.”

During the testing that led as much as the rodeo, every Shadow platoon performed house station coaching earlier than deploying to a rotation on the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, or the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, the place the techniques participated in large-scale coaching workouts that help the BCTs.

Soldiers discovered an important deal concerning the techniques throughout this testing part, together with the tactical employment of the VTOL UAS and technical specs, Thomson mentioned. And total, they had been impressed. The troopers particularly appreciated how a lot simpler the techniques had been to arrange and deploy than what they’re used to. Typically, it takes six or seven troopers seven hours to make use of the RQ-7 Shadow. Two or three troopers can get the brand new techniques operational in a fraction of the time.

“The VTOL system permits us to take off from wherever that has between 100 and 300 sq. toes of house, even when it’s in an city atmosphere,” mentioned Specialist Anthony Karl, 1ABCT, 1ID. “There’s a lot much less floor tools. From truck to air is about two hours.”

Soldier reactions had been overwhelmingly optimistic, Thomson agreed, and most most well-liked the VTOL they examined over the RQ-7 Shadow. Some did have suggestions for enhancements, although, together with ruggedizing the techniques and additional bettering
set-up. Specific suggestions had been offered to knowledge analysts all through the yearlong testing part, and troopers additionally had the chance to supply suggestions in the course of the rodeo.

“We noticed agile techniques from each performer,” mentioned MG Walter T. Rugen, director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team, “and the troopers uniformly fell in love with their assigned techniques.”

Aerosonde HQ from Textron Systems

CHOOSING THE SYSTEMS

The Army acquired responses from a number of corporations in 2018 expressing curiosity in collaborating in a fly-off at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, Thomson mentioned. Eleven techniques had been chosen for the flyoff, which concluded in January 2019. From these 11, the choice board selected 4 to take part within the trials.

All 4 techniques have options that carry superior capabilities to the Army’s tactical UAS, Thomson mentioned, and the “Buy, Try, Inform” method “knowledgeable necessities discovered from assessing capabilities out there immediately.

“Runway independence supplies important agility to the employment of the system permitting for launch and restoration virtually wherever on the battlefield,” he mentioned. “The decreased logistical footprint supplies a functionality to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance and goal acquisition on the transfer. With a a lot quieter plane, the enemy is unaware of the FTUAS presence and the power to organically transport the techniques supplies further agility to the BCTs.”

Ultimately, FTUAS will probably be a low to
medium altitude system with fashionable datalinks, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, infrared laser pointer/designator/vary finder, knowledge encryption, manned-unmanned teaming capabilities and the power to function autonomously, in line with the Army’s web site. It will probably be designed with a modular open techniques method, making it straightforward to interchange payloads.

“FTUAS offers commanders the power to command and management on the transfer,” MG Rugen mentioned, “one thing Shadow can not present.”

NEXT STEPS

Now that the BCT trials and rodeo are over, the Army will search approval for FTUAS Requirements from the Army Requirements Oversight Council, Thomson mentioned. Approval is predicted to come back within the third quarter of this yr. Once accredited necessities are established, the Army will define an acquisition technique.

Whichever system is chosen to interchange the Shadow, it’s going to present the U.S. Army “with essentially the most modernized and deadly techniques to create overmatch with our adversaries,” Thomson mentioned.

“The RQ7 Shadow tactical unmanned plane system has been the workhorse for the U.S. Army for greater than 20 years and continues to serve our formations with great outcomes immediately,” he mentioned. “However, advances in VTOL applied sciences in recent times supply progressive enhancements for the Army’s Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems to offer our warfighters with a tactical benefit over our adversaries.”

The Arcturus JUMP 20 from AeroVironment