Army adds $97M to Shadow drone deal

The service is acquiring more of the catapult-launched ISR unmanned aircraft, which has also been used in concert with Apache helicopters.

The Army is increasing its investment in the Shadow unmanned aircraft, a catapult-launched ISR vehicle that the Army and Marines have used for years and which recently has been adapted for manned/unmanned teaming operations with the Apache helicopter.

The service’s Contracting Command has given Textron Systems a $97.1 million contract modification for full-rate production of the Shadow and its tactical data link retrofit, according to a Defense department announcement. The modification is to a $79.5 million contract awarded in April and brings the total of this round of Shadow acquisitions to $176.6 million.

The Shadow, with a wingspan of 20 feet and a payload of 60 pounds, provides ISR (intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance), targeting information and assessment to brigade commanders in the field. The aircraft can identify targets up to about 78 miles from the brigade tactical operations center, and recognize tactical vehicles from 8,000 feet in altitude and at more than 2 miles at slant range, in day or night.

The Army also has been working to more tightly integrate Shadows, along with the larger Gray Eagle UAV, into operations with Apache helicopters. Unmanned and manned systems have worked in teams for years, with ISR data from drones being fed to pilots. But the UAVs were controlled from a ground station. In late 2014, the Army began testing the One System Remote Video Terminal, which gives Apache pilots control over two UAVs to direct them on their missions. 

In March 2015, the Army took another step toward integrating manned and unmanned operations, for the first time assigning manned (Apaches) and unmanned (Shadows) systems to the same unit.

Work under the contract modification is expected to be completed by Oct. 31, 2018.

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