Farnborough Air Show

Shadow to cast net over Afghanistan

 - July 16, 2010, 11:43 PM

Sweden became the first export customer for the Textron/AAI Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aircraft system when a contract for two Shadow systems was finally completed on May 18. The contract was to be signed in 2008, but was deferred due to budgetary problems.

Each of the Shadow systems comprises four unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), plus ground control segments, remote video terminals for troops and vehicles in the field, and a maintenance section. Normally three of the vehicles are considered operational, with the fourth held at readiness as a reserve.

The RQ-7 air vehicles are launched from a ramp or a runway, and are recovered either by a parachute system or by an arrested strip landing. The vehicle is fully autonomous and typically carries a POP 300 EO/IR payload from Israel Aerospace Industries.

Sweden identified a time-critical requirement for a tactical UAV in May 2007, primarily to support its operations in Afghanistan. The country’s current UAV system, the Sperwer/Ugglan, is unsuitable for this role, and Swedish forces have only the small Skylark available. The FMV defense procurement agency awarded Saab a contract to act as lead system integrator.

Five competitors were evaluated, but AAI’s Shadow 200 was selected on the grounds of cost, reliability and combat-proven performance.

Under the contract AAI will supply the two systems, including eight air vehicles, while Saab will repack components to fit Swedish vehicles, provide logistics and training, and integrate systems into the Swedish network, including the delivery of two sensor source intelligence cells [SSICs]. The SSICs  will also support other reconnaissance platforms, such as the Gripen.

AAI is to deliver the first Shadow 200 system early next year and the second about a year later. The first SSIC is to be delivered by Saab 16 months after contract
signature and be deployed to Afghanistan along with the first Shadow system in the fall of 2011. The second SSIC follows toward the end of the year and will remain in Sweden with the other Shadow system for training.

The U.S. Army has racked up its millionth hour of unmanned air operations, and the RQ-7 Shadow 200 has flown over half of that time. Included in the 510,000 hours of Shadow flying to date are 420,000 hours of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around 20 to 25 systems are deployed for brigade level support, and at times they have been launching a vehicle every 20 minutes.

AAI received orders for 115 Shadow 200 systems from the U.S. Army and has delivered around 100. The U.S. Marine Corps has also acquired the type.
The U.S. company is continuously improving the Shadow series and has completed testing a vehicle with wingspan extended from 14 to 20 feet. This increases the payload capability and raises typical endurance from six to nine hours. The parachute recovery system is being improved to provide softer landings, and by the end of the year AAI expects to have completed trials with a laser designation system.