Upgraded Shadow Drones to Work Alongside Apache Helicopters
The RQ-7Bv2 tactical common data link Shadow — which is used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions — features a number of enhancements that will greatly improve an Apache’s situational awareness, Army Lt. Col. RJ Garcia, commander of the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment said March 19.
“What the Shadow provides and what the Apache provides is extended situational awareness across the battlefield and the ability to transmit live, real-time, full-motion video to multiple people across the battlefield so that as we execute mission command at the higher levels we have a situational understanding of what’s going on,” Garcia said during a phone call with reporters.
Further, the Shadow/Apache teaming provides “a capability for the soldier on the ground and the commander in the field to be more lethal, effective and efficient,” he said.
The Shadow has been in the Army’s inventory for over a decade and has logged hundreds of thousands of flight hours. The UAV has a length of 12 feet, a wingspan of 20.4 feet and weighs 467 pounds.
This week, Garcia’s regiment converted from the 1/501st Aviation Battalion, 1st Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to a heavy attack reconnaissance squadron. It is the first Apache battalion to be converted under the Army’s new aviation restructuring initiative, which calls for the service to divest its fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and instead use AH-64 Apaches — largely taken from the National Guard — for reconnaissance missions.
“The Shadow adds an incredible capability to the Apache helicopter’s mission and especially as we look at the manned-unmanned teaming piece,” he said. The UAV will be able to fly out father than the Apache, extending a pilot’s visuals.
Some improvements to the Shadow include encryption protection for video and control data links and increased interoperability between Army UAVs with new software upgrades and a common control station and control terminal.
Additionally, lifecycle costs are reduced with the new system and endurance is improved, going from six to nine hours. Operators and maintainers will be training with the system until May, he noted.
The new Shadow platform will be fielded at a rate of two to three systems per month over the next five years, said Army Lt. Col. Tory Burgess, product manager for Shadow tactical UAS at PEO Aviation. The first few models will be new systems. The Army will later refurbish existing Shadows from combat aviation brigades throughout the service with the new configuration, he noted. There are currently 102 systems in the Army’s arsenal.
“It’s a monumental task for the folks in the office but we’re trying to get this capability out to the force as quickly as we can,” Burgess said. Textron Systems, the builder of the Shadow, will complete the refurbishments at its Hunt Valley, Maryland, facility, he added.
Photo: Shadow version 2 (Bic Green, PM UAS)