Army retrofits Shadow UAVs with laser targeting

The retrofit kits for the Shadow UAS will add weapons targeting capabilities to its existing electro-optic and infrared surveillance capabilities.

The Army Aviation and Missile Command is buying a low-rate initial production set of laser targeting retrofit kits for tactical Shadow unmanned aircraft systems.

The command said it awarded prime Shadow contractor AAI Corp. of Hunt Valley, Md., a $12.2 million contract Jan. 16 to purchase 25 retrofit kits, with the work to be completed no later than Aug. 31.

The kits will add laser target designation onto the tactical UAS’ existing electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensor system.

The idea is to integrate Shadows more tightly into a kill chain that involves Apache attack helicopters, which often tend to fire laser-guided Hellfire missiles, said Steven Reid, an AAI vice president for unmanned aircraft systems. The Army began using tightly integrated reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting and acquisition operations involving UASs and Apaches in Iraq in 2006 under the name of Task Force ODIN (which stands for observe, detect, identify and neutralize).

The retrofitted Shadows will be used for similar operations, Reid said.

Integrating a laser detection system onto the Shadow required modifying the platform somewhat, Reid said. “It can’t be bouncing around in the sky – it has to be a very stable platform,” he added.

AAI also worked with the payload manufacturer to shrink the size of the laser engine, which generates the beam, he said.

Should the Army choose to buy more retrofit kits beyond the low-rate initial production manufacturing capability, it’s still uncertain exactly how much each cost would cost, Reid said. “We really don’t have an answer yet because it depends on what the total quantity will be,” he added.

The Shadow can already use the Global Positioning System to guide target munitions onto a target, Reid said. “Laser beam delivery is pretty precise, particularly in a tactical kind of environment, where the Shadow would be a key participant,” he added.