The U.S. Army is committing increasing resources to developing sharply enhanced
surveillance, communications and weapons for unmanned aerial vehicles. It also
is developing tactical doctrine to deploy these assets from corps to company
Because of mounting soldier demand for UAVs, officials are looking to fortify
unmanned capabilities without crowding the battlefield.
In Operation Iraqi Freedom, tactical UAVs such as the Hunter and Shadow flew
a combined 7,500 hours—approximately four times their projected operational
tempo. Division and corps commanders continue to ask for more UAVs, said Lt.
Col. John Kelleher, from the office of the assistant secretary of the Army.
He spoke at the unmanned systems program review sponsored by the Association
for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Two years ago, he said, III Corps had the only Hunter operational unit. During
the course of last year, both V Corps and the 18th Airborne Corps were equipped
The Army’s first-ever fielded UAV, the Hunter initially was terminated
in 1996, but resurrected a few years later, said Kelleher.
The Hunter is a tactical, fixed wing air vehicle that collects and relays real-time
reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition information back to its
The Hunter, built by Northrop Grumman, is playing the interim role for the
Extended Range Mission Payload UAV, which is supposed to replace the Hunter.
The Army is planning to make an award in the ERMP program in late 2004 early
2005, said Kelleher. The ERMP would carry a payload of about 800 pounds, have
a range of 200 miles and operate 24 hours continuously at altitudes of up to
While current UAVs perform mainly reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition,
the ERMP also is supposed to carry weapons. That is separate from the joint
Army-DARPA development of the unmanned combat armed rotorcraft, which is expected
to have an initial operating capability in 2010, said Kelleher.
Last month, however, the Army deployed two Improved G-NAT systems (I-GNAT)
to Iraq. First delivered in 1998, I-GNAT has an endurance of 35 hours at 300
km, according to the producer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
A downsized Predator-type UAV, the I-GNAT can be outfitted with Hellfire and
Stinger missiles, but Army officials refused to specify whether the deployed
systems carry weapons.
The Shadow 200 tactical UAV went from a production decision to fielding in
33 months, Kelleher said. In 2003, the Army had eight operating Shadow systems.
This year, the service is fielding another 12 systems. Two months ago, AAI Corporation
received a contract worth $97 million. According to an AAI official, the Army’s
total requirement for Shadow systems is 33.
The 4th Infantry Division operated the Shadow in Iraq, and V Corps started
flying their Shadow assets in theater around February.
Each Shadow TUAV system consists of four air vehicles, two ground control stations
and associated components and support equipment. Shadow 200 sees targets 125
kilometers away from the brigade tactical operations center and recognizes vehicles
up to 8,000 feet above ground. Its endurance is five to six hours. The ground
station transmits imagery and telemetry data in real time to the Air Force’s
Joint STARS radar aircraft, the Army’s intelligence databases and field
artillery targeting systems.
“Obviously, we have less capability than the [Air Force’s] Global
Hawk and the Predator, but in many ways we have more capabilities, because these
travel along with the brigade, with the tactical commander,” Kelleher
said. “We have operational control of what we want to do and what we want
To increase the overhead surveillance for the 4th ID, the service fielded a
small UAV, called Raven. Kelleher calls Raven a success story, which started
out with five experimental systems. Now, the service is pouring money into another
185 Raven systems, said Kelleher. One system is made up of three line-of-sight
air vehicles and a ground control station. The Army is looking to rapidly equip
the forces with these systems, but will not field all of them overseas, said
Raven has a wingspan of 4.5 feet and weighs about 3.8 pounds without its carrying
case, and 12 pounds with it. It reaches out to 15 kilometers and can endure
missions of a bit longer than an hour. It is hand-launched, has auto-land recovery,
GPS and infrared camera and auto-navigation. It also has a rechargeable battery
set, said Kelleher.
Raven fits in a backpack and can be assembled in less than three minutes and
can be used for up to 200 flights to perform tactical level reconnaissance,
surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment.
Raven goes where Shadow or Hunter is not going to be able to collect the intelligence
needed, he said. “When you have an urgent need to see over the next hill...you
get immediate feedback, and you can put it back into your Humvee,” he
By 2006, the Army will assess whether the Raven can be replaced by the “micro
air vehicle” now in development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects
“We are going to compare what is out there—the commercial, off-the-shelf,
fixedwing assets, such as Raven, with the ducted-fan technology that the Army
is developing, and we will make a decision on which way we are going to go about,”
Despite the large demand for UAVs, the Army, for its future force, wants to
reduce the amount of vehicles on the battlefield, while at the same time providing
support to all echelons. To do that, the Army will have to compromise on some
of the capabilities of these unmanned systems, said Kelleher.
In its design of the Future Combat Systems—a network of manned and unmanned
platforms—the Army says it wants one capability for platoon and company,
“but it is not necessarily going to be a different UAV platform,”
Kelleher explained. Battalion and brigade also should have a UAV capability
and not necessarily a different one, he said.
In the FCS, Class 1 will be a platoon-class small aircraft. Class 2 will operate
at the company level. Class 3 will be attached to the battalion and class 4
to the brigade commander.
As of now, however, class 2 and class 3 UAV decisions have been deferred, according
to Tom Bagwell, the Army’s program executive officer for ground-combat
Class 1 and 4 UAVs may have to take on additional workload, said Bob Thomas,
the product manager at the joint project office for unmanned ground vehicles.
“You do not have the best picture, but it is a good enough picture,”
he told National Defense. “Some of the class 1 and 4 UAVs are trying to
pick up some capability that is not there.”
The Shadow UAV potentially could be considered for class 2, according to service
The class 3 mission in the near term will be accomplished by the vertical takeoff
and landing UAV, the Firescout. The Firescout was developed originally for the
Navy and Marine Corps.
The Army aircraft, seven in number, are to start flight testing in 2007, user
testing in 2008, and have an initial operating capability in 2010, said Richard
Ludwig, from Northrop Grumman. The company received an eight-year $115 million
contract from the Army. Options include up to 180 aircraft.
“The Army has been doing some studies on whether the class 4 can embrace
the class 3 mission,” he said in an interview during Asian Aerospace 2004
in Singapore. “One of their concerns is the mobility of aircraft, because
in the class 3 vision, they want something that they can throw in the back of
a trailer and haul it around in a Humvee.”
Northrop would not have to make any adjustments to the current platform to
meet that need, he said, even though the unmanned chopper is larger in size
than projected for a class 3 UAV. “You can tow it around in a trailer
should that be what you want to do,” he said. “The easy way to move
it is send it from one control station to another control station 300 miles
away and move it around that way, instead of putting it in a truck.”
Meanwhile, the vertical takeoff A-160 Hummingbird Warrior UAV, which will provide
communications relay and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for
the FCS units of action is being considered for the class 3 UAV. The Hummingbird
currently is in development at DARPA.
The division and corps could share the same kind of UAV, or even use a platform
for another service, such as the Air Force, said Kelleher.
Whatever unmanned system ends up being developed for each set of echelons,
at a tactical level—battalion and above—the service wants the Shadow,
Hunter, Firescout and ERMP integrated into one single ground control station.
That would assure “seamless operations of these air vehicles down to the
payload operator and the vehicle controller,” said Kelleher.
The Army already has experimented with the integration of Hunter into the control
station of Shadow, he said.
In many ways, multiplying the unmanned power means a logistics quagmire, which
in Iraq was not ironed out. Contractors need to be deployed forward, while the
high operations tempo increases the demand on spares and transportation, Kelleher
The termination of the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter freed up $390 million in
additional UAV investments for the Army, according to service officials.