Army Looking for Lightweight weapons for UAS Platforms

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he Army could be looking to expand the lethality of its drone fleet, recently issuing a request for information for small guided munitions that can be outfitted to rotary wing and unmanned aerial systems. Specifically, the Army said its primary interest is in weapons of 60 pounds or less—and preferably in the 25-pounds range.

Additionally, these weapon systems should be able to engage both moving and stationary targets that include lightly armored vehicles, fleeting light vehicles and dismounted combatants in day and night conditions, with low collateral damage.

The Army already operates UASs with lethal payloads such as the medium-altitude, long-range MQ-1C Gray Eagle that can carry four Hellfire missiles weighing roughly 100 pounds each.

Hellfire missiles – the primary munition outfitted on unmanned aircraft associated with the controversial targeted killing program run by the CIA using the dual surveillance and strike capability of drones – have been described by many, such as former CIA director Michael Hayden, as one the most accurate and humane forms of targeting, given their precision and small warheads that limit collateral damage.

The Army is not releasing details regarding the platforms, regions or units the armaments being requested would be applied to, saying that information is too sensitive, a contracting employee told Defense Systems. “Inquiries regarding sensitive information such as specific platforms, Army units and regions will not be addressed in this forum,” the RFI states.

As such, it is not clear if the Army wishes to arm smaller UAS platforms such as the MQ-5B or the RQ-7B Shadow, or if it wishes to apply the desired technology to the Gray Eagle, potentially freeing coveted size, weight and power requirements for additional payloads.

Army officials have indicated in the past that they are interested in taking weight off of certain UAS platforms to increase payload capacity. Additionally, they have discussed potentially weaponizing the Shadow, an aircraft with a 14-foot wingspan that has been used for surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment.

“Weaponing Shadow comes at a cost to the commander who now has to maybe trade station time and fuel for a payload,” Col. Thomas Von Eschenbach, the director of the capabilities integration center at TRADOC, told reporters last fall.  “It depends on what it weighs and what it can do. So at what cost would it take, and what munition would that do? We’re not ruling it out [but] on the current Shadow system, that’s a challenge.”

There has also been talk of changing the armament of the Gray Eagle to include other weapons than just Hellfire missiles.

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Another 1st; Gray Eagle | Apache Conducts Manned-Unmanned Teaming in South Korea

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SAN DIEGO – 18 November 2015 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, today announced that a U.S. Army Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) recently conducted manned-unmanned teaming exercises in South Korea. Exercise support was conducted in August 2015 from Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.

“These flights represent a major milestone for the MQ-1C Gray Eagle as they successfully demonstrated manned-unmanned teaming in South Korea and proved the aircraft’s ability to conduct operations in diverse weather conditions that are typical on the Korean Peninsula,” said Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “They also marked a new company milestone for Gray Eagle with its first mission in South Korean airspace.”

During the exercise, the Gray Eagle UAS streamed video and metadata via a line-of-sight data link directly to a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter from extended distances. The Apache subsequently was able to re-transmit the imagery to a One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT), allowing ground forces to view the video from the helicopter. Field commanders within the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) were able to receive both live Gray Eagle streaming video and re-transmitted video sent by the Apache. Once Gray Eagle was airborne, U.S. ground forces passed contact reports and target coordinates to operators in the aircraft’s One System Ground Control Station (OSGCS). The operators were then able to direct the Gray Eagle’s sensors to positively identify and track the targets.

Technologically advanced and combat proven, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an Army Division and Echelons Above Division organic asset directly controlled by Army field commanders. Its expansive mission set includes persistent, broad-area Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA); communications relay; convoy protection; Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection; pattern of life analysis; and precision weapons delivery. A key force multiplier, Gray Eagle has an endurance of up to 25 hours, an operating altitude of up to 25,000 feet, and payload capacity of over 1,000 pounds.

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It’s Official, Improved Gray Eagle to Enter Production for US Army

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The Army has awarded a contract to General Atomics for full-rate production of 19 Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) unmanned aerial systems, the company has announced. The systems will be delivered by September 2018.

General Atomics also manufactures the highly acclaimed Predator and larger Reaper, both of which are operated by the Air Force.

According to General Atomics, “IGE is a next-generation advanced derivative of the Army’s mission-proven Gray Eagle UAS that has accumulated over 228,000 flight hours since 2008.” While the Gray Eagleand Improved Gray Eagle are very similar in terms of air speed, flights ceiling and payload, they differ in endurance. The IGE’s endurance capability is almost double that of the Gray Eagle—48 hours to 25 hours respectively—though the Army lists the Gray Eagle’s endurance at greater than 30 hours in its UAS Roadmap.

The Gray Eagle is weaponized, capable of carrying four Hellfire missiles. The IGE will deliver “improved, game-changing capabilities that will perform ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] collection and close air support of ground forces through longer persistence, a variety of sensor and weapons payloads, and extended range that affords the ability to operate from safe locations and transit into areas of conflict,” General Atomics said.

Since there are relatively few differences in software and operation, the IGE can be easily integrated with existing Gray Eagle units.

As the Defense Department seeks to increase the number of daily drone orbits, or combat air patrols, by  nearly 50 percent by 2019, DOD will be relying on the Army, Special Operations Command and, to a smaller degree, contractors to pick up the extra slack from the Air Force, which will operate 60 CAPs. By 2019, DOD wants 90 CAPS to address the gaps in aerial ISR with threats seeming to continue to proliferate.

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General Atomics to Improve 19 Gray Eagles

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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $47,499,986 modification (P00033) to undefinitized contract W58RGZ-13-C-0109 for an improved Gray Eagle engineering change proposal applicable to 19 aircraft, four lots of ground support equipment and one lot of unique initial spares. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30, 2018.  Fiscal 2015 other procurement funds in the amount of $23,274,993 were obligated at the time of the award. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

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