Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

By Gourley, Scott R. | Army, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicles


Gourley, Scott R., Army


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. …

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