The ubiquitous presence of the U.S. Army's Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (TUAV) in the skies over the recently held Stryker brigade combat team (SBCT) certification exercise served to highlight their critical role as the eyes of the commander.
As described in recent congressional testimony presented by Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Bergantz, Program Executive Officer-Aviation, "the Shadow is a brigade-level asset that provides the brigade commander with the ability to shape and fight the battle."
Pointing to the late September 2002 approval by the Army acquisition executive and the Army Systems Acquisition Review Council for Shadow to enter full-rate production, Bergantz described the event as "a Department of Defense milestone."
Indeed, authorization for the RQ-7A Shadow 200 TUAV program to enter into full-rate production was the first full-rate production decision for any of the armed services' UAV programs.
Shadow 200 provides maneuver brigade commanders with a near real-time, highly accurate, sustainable capability for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment. Images and telemetry from the air vehicles can be used by the brigade commander and his staff, the brigade's subordinate maneuver battalions, supporting artillery units and supporting aviation assets.
The Shadow air vehicle has a wing-span of 13 feet and can carry payloads of 60 pounds. Equipped with an electro-optic/infrared suite, it has a gross takeoff weight of just over 300 pounds and has significant range and loiter capabilities.
Four air vehicles are contained in each basic Shadow platoon, together with six Humvees, two ground con-trol stations (GCS), four remote video terminals and antennas, and one portable ground control station and data terminal. (One Humvee transports the air vehicles and launcher trailer. Two more Humvees each carry one mounted GCS. Two Humvees are personnel and equipment transports. The sixth Humvee carries associated maintenance equipment.)
In making the full-rate production award announcement, Army representatives noted that the Shadow 200 system went from program initiation through initial operational test and evaluation to full-rate production decision in just 33 months. The final 24 months of that period saw more than 1,000 Shadow flights totaling more than 2,000 flight hours, with an operational availability rate of more than 95 percent.
The full-rate production contract with AAI Corporation will provide 41 Shadow 200 TUAVs for the active Army, including all six SBCTs. The first Shadow 200 systems started fielding at the end of October 2002 to the first (3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division) and second (1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division) SBCTs at Fort Lewis, Wash., the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Hood, Texas, and to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where soldier training for UAVs is conducted.
According to Gen. Bergantz, Shadow fielding is expected to continue through 2009.
Before their fielding of Shadow 200 late last year, the Stryker brigades had been refining their UAV tactics, techniques and procedures with surrogate RQ-5A Hunter UAV systems manufactured by Northrop Grumman (formerly TRW).
Originally designated as BQM-155A, the program was officially terminated in January 1996. At that time most of the air vehicles and ground systems were put in storage with a few kept active for testing. In 1999 some of the systems were removed from storage and used to support operations in Kosovo, and the systems were redesignated RQ-5A.
As described by Gen. Bergantz in his early March testimony, "The Ar-my's Hunter UAV is our most extensively used system, with over 24,000 flight hours and 7,000 separate flights. The Hunter is deployed to corps units requiring long range and long endurance. Currently, Hunter UAV companies are assigned to Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Polk, La.; and, in summer 2003, will be fielded to U.S. Army Europe. The Hunter program will extend through 2009."
In addition to this expanded fielding plan it is perhaps more significant -and potentially ironic-that the Army's Hunter is also becoming a killer.
In a March 26, 2003, press statement, Congressman Curt Weldon, House Armed Services Committee (HASC), noted, "In 1996, our [HASC, Research & Development] subcommittee adopted, and the full committee supported, legislation directing DoD to weaponize [Air Force] Predator and [Army] Hunter. At the time, DoD opposed our initiative. Last year, six years after our subcommittee's legislative initiative and DoD's opposition to that initiative, DoD was heralding its weaponization of Predator. After the termination of the Hunter UAV program the Army put the existing systems in storage. Our subcommittee recognized the utility of a core capability and encouraged the Army to bring those systems out of storage. Now the Army is employing those systems and experimenting with weaponizing some of those UAVs."
In fact, the last few months have seen multiple weaponization activities involving the Army Hunters. As an example, July 2002 saw a contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems for a demonstration program to place brilliant antiarmor (BAT) submunitions on the Hunter UAV. The 90 day effort was designed to see if the Army could expand mission capabilities with existing UAVs and munitions.
Northrop Grumman's BAT precision submunition features a combination of acoustic and infrared guid-ance. Each BAT measures 5.5 inches in diameter, 36 inches in length and weighs 44 lbs.
The submunition was originally developed for delivery by the Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) Block II missile, with each ATACMS Block II capable of delivering 13 BATs against moving armored combat vehicles at ranges of approximately 140 kilometers. (To date the Army has received 44 ATACMS Block IIs).
Under the July 2002 demonstration contract, BATs were placed in a special tube housing that dispensed the submunition through forward piston action. Additional contract work included the design and integration of a mission integration unit to coordinate the flow of information and commands between BAT, Hunter and the ground controller, and development of supporting software.
The demonstration contract culminated in two firings: one instrumented BAT firing in September and a live firing on 11 October. The success of the 2002 demonstration project led to a follow-on contract in mid-January 2003 for a quick reaction program to outfit 78 BATs with tube housings while also upgrading six Hunter UAVs to deliver those munitions. The first two dozen of those modified BATs, along with the first two modified Hunters, were ready for delivery by the end of February.
As of this writing, delivery of all 78 modified BATs and all six modified Hunters has been accomplished, and that capability is currently in depot storage. None of the quick reaction BAT systems were deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
However, the Army is far from through with its Hunter/killer investigations. Under a parallel program designated Viper Strike, engineers have further modified selected BAT submunitions to allow for laser designation against point targets in congested urban battlefield settings.
The program, which replaces the BAT infrared seeker with a semi-active laser seeker, would provide Hunter with the expanded lethal capability to engage both a moving and stationary target as well as capability to deliver ordnance where restrictive rules of engagement mandate eyes on target. An example of the latter case could include Hunter delivery of a BAT against a pinpoint target being laser designated by a special operations team hidden in a ground location.
Initial Viper Strike capabilities investigations feature laser seekers from both Elbit and IAI. Initial live fire testing of the Viper Strike combination began during the week of March 10 with a total of 18 munitions delivered by the end of that month.
As of this writing, Northrop Grumman representatives note that the company is still evaluating both the IAI and Elbit seekers with follow-on seeker testing in late summer. They add that the Army has requested $23 million of the supplemental fiscal year 2003 funds to convert 156 base BATs to Viper Strike and to develop and demonstrate GPS integration.…