Army wants to extend UAS endurance, add weapons

The Army's top unmanned aircraft systems will receive upgrades that emphasize increased endurance and weapons capability.

The Army will continue to improve its key unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by adding capabilities such as increased endurance and the ability to carry weapons. A key part of this effort will be working more closely with industry to develop more innovative and cost-effective technologies, Richard Kretzschmar, deputy project manager with the Army’s UAS program office, said at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012 conference in Washington on Feb. 8.

The MQ 1-C Gray Eagle is the largest UAS in the Army’s inventory and the only unmanned aerial platform with a weapons/strike mode, Kretzschmar said. The program is seeking ways to integrate with third party developers. One example is work on the Universal Armaments Interface for the Gray Eagle, which can accept a variety of weapons and their data and sensor requirements in a plug-and-play capability. The program office is in discussions with industry for similar technology approaches, he said.

Another key Army UAS program is the RQ-7 Shadow. With the production run of the baseline version of the aircraft ending, Kretzschmar said the service is looking at enhancements for its next variant. Improvements to Shadow will include increased range and endurance and the ability to carry weapons. The Army is working with the Marine Corps on an upgraded version of the Shadow, he said.

The Army is also developing increased payload and sensor capabilities for its tactical squad and company level UAS such as the RQ-11 Raven. A new gimbal-mounted sensor package is being readied for the Raven, Kretzchmar said. The service is also reaching out to industry to develop new capabilities to mount on its small platforms.

Other projects include work on vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAS and semi-rigid airships. The Army is teaming with the Navy on the VTOL project to identify mission requirements, Kretzschmar said.

In addition to upgrading and modifying its current fleet of unmanned aircraft, the Army is also making strides in developing interoperability and data hand-off between its manned and unmanned systems, Kretzschmar said. Due to the success of the Manned-Unmanned Systems Integration Capability (MUSIC) exercise in 2011, the Army is planning MUSIC II for the fall of 2013 at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

To plan for the upcoming event, the Army wants to work more closely with industry. The service will hold an industry day March 14-15. The program is also working to create a monthly industry day, he said.