AAI Is Upgrading Half of U.S. Army’s Shadow Fleet

 - July 20, 2012, 3:30 PM
AAI Textron is upgrading 68 of the U.S. Army’s 117 Shadow systems, which include four aircraft each, with an encrypted tactical common datalink. (Photo: AAI Textron)

AAI Textron Systems is upgrading more than half of the U.S. Army’s RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to incorporate a tactical common datalink (TCDL) supporting interoperability with other manned and unmanned aircraft. The company has a contract from the U.S. Marine Corps to arm the Shadow using the larger wing added through the Army modifications.

Earlier this month, AAI announced the receipt of a $358 million contract from the Army to upgrade 45 RQ-7B Shadow systems of four aircraft each–or 180 total aircraft–with a TCDL and other enhancements. This adds to a September 2011 contract from the Army to modify 23 systems (92 aircraft), bringing to 68 the number of Shadow systems that will be upgraded of the 117 systems delivered to date.

The modified RQ-7Bv2 Shadow features the TCDL, wingspan extended to 20 feet from 14 feet, electronic fuel-injection engine and endurance increased to nine hours from six. Deliveries to the Army’s Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, will begin this fall through next spring under the 2011 contract and next summer through 2014 under the latest contract. AAI is also replacing the current Shadow ground control station with a third-generation Universal Ground Control Station (UCGS). There are two ground stations per Shadow system.

Steven Reid, AAI Textron senior vice president and general manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, said the version two modification with TCDL and expanded bandwidth will enable the Shadow to accommodate sensors other than its POP-300D electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) and laser designation payload, possibly for signals intelligence and electronic warfare. The Army is also considering a miniature synthetic aperture radar for the brigade-level UAV.

The Marines awarded AAI a contract last December to arm two Shadow systems–eight aircraft total–using the version two extended wing with hard points. The choice of weapon is classified, but it is unpowered, Reid said, adding that the company plans the first weapons release this year. Already, Shadows are routinely marking targets in Afghanistan for Apache and OH-58D helicopters and MQ-1C Grey Eagle UAVs using their onboard laser designator, he said.

AAI is also self-funding the development of a next-generation Shadow M2 system. The M2 growth version with “aviation grade” Textron Lycoming heavy-fuel engine anticipates the eventual integration of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. national airspace system, where they are currently limited to restricted airspace. Reid said 30 Shadow systems have been fielded to National Guard units, which could benefit from using the UAVs in unrestricted airspace.