U.S. Army Version of Predator UAV Rushed Into Service

 - June 16, 2008, 11:55 AM

Two General Atomics Sky Warrior UAVs have been operating in Iraq since late April, well ahead of the drone’s formal system design and development (SDD) schedule. The Sky Warrior, a new version of the Predator-A, won the U.S. Army’s extended-range/multipurpose (ER/MP) competition. The substantial changes include a Thielert heavy-fuel engine, an autoland system and an improved, more mobile ground station. The ER/MP program is controversial in the Pentagon, and especially within the U.S. Air Force, since the Army has stated a requirement for no fewer than 45 systems of 12 aircraft each and it intends to operate them as high as 30,000 feet using enlisted personnel as non-rated remote pilots. The two aircraft now in Iraq are “Block 0” versions that General Atomics said were produced quickly to meet urgent operational needs. A further five will be deployed before year-end. Previously, the Army bought 16 smaller I-Gnat ER UAVs from General Atomics for service in Iraq staring in 2004. General Atomics is producing 17 Sky Warrior Block 1 aircraft for the SDD phase of the ER/MP, and is expecting the limited rate initial production decision to be made as early as this summer.