Sky Warrior

By Gourley, Scott R. | Army, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Sky Warrior


Gourley, Scott R., Army


Soldier Armed

In his April 19 testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, Maj. Gen.(P) Jeffrey A. Sorenson, who was then the deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), provided an update on a range of Army Airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) programs.

A key element of that update involved the success that the Army has experienced in theater with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

"Army UAS operate in every dimension of the land warfare battlespace," Sorenson said. "As tactical, assuredsupport ISR assets, these systems shape and develop the situation for intelligence surveillance of improvised explosive device emplacements, overwatch of tactical engagements, cordon-and-search missions and even hostage extraction."

After highlighting service success with current platforms, he added, "Since 2006, the Army has also been pursuing the deployment of more capable extended range/multipurpose (ER/MP) systems to tactical commanders."

Sorenson described the ER/MP UAS as "a multisensor, armed UAS, designed to satisfy a Joint Requirements Oversight Council solution to identified capability gaps at division and below. Based in the divisional Combat Aviation Brigade, ER/MP provides assured intelligence collection, reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, armed attack and communications-relay capabilities to the ground tactical commanders at division and below."

That ER/MP unmanned aircraft system is being developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., under the name Sky Warrior.

"Sky Warrior is the name we put on the next-generation Army unmanned aircraft system," explained Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., president of the Aircraft Systems Group at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. "The airplane looks a lot like the Air Force Predator, but it's really very different."

Noting the differences between Sky Warrior and Predator, Cassidy explained that the Sky Warrior UAS will have "triple redundant avionics in it, which means three flight computers. It has a heavy fuel engine, which burns jet fuel or diesel. It carries four Hellfire laser-guided missiles. And it can be controlled through a satellite system, or it can be controlled line-ofsight by operators in the field."

"It is designed to provide direct intelligence and reconnaissance support to the soldiers in the field," he added. "And with the four Hellfires on it, if they encounter any kind of a target that would help the soldiers in the field, they can shoot at that target-either a person or vehicles."

Cassidy observed that the Army has already developed significant combat experience with a similar, Predator-type aircraft.

"About three years ago, Congress provided funding to get a Predatortype system into the field to support the Army. We called that the Improved GNAT extended range (I-GNAT ER). After the ER/MP program began, the Army elected to change its name to Sky Warrior-Alpha. But it is basically an Air Force Predator-type airplane," he said.

The I-GNAT ER/Sky Warrior-Alpha multimission intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike aircraft measures 27 feet in length with a wingspan of 55 feet.

"We built about 12 or 14 of those," Cassidy said. "They all deployed, and the first one that deployed has almost 8,000 flight hours on it, which is more flight time than any other Predator in the world. The next two after that have almost 7,000 flight hours on them. So the Army has gotten a lot of use out of these airplanes. They are up around 97 percent fully mission-capable every day, and they fly continuously."

"After about the 13th or 14th airplane, we got a contract to accelerate fielding of the ER/MP program. …

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