Textron Systems has completed upgrades to about half of the U.S. Army’s RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aircraft systems to the V2 standard with a high-bandwidth, encrypted tactical common data link (TCDL) and other improvements. Nearly all of the 117 Army and Marine Corps’ Shadow systems—each one consisting of four aircraft and two ground stations—are under contract for the block upgrade.
The RQ-7Bv2 Shadow features the TCDL, extended wingspan from 14 feet to 20 feet, and improved UEL AR741-1102 rotary engine with electronic fuel injection. The endurance of the 460-pound, catapult-launched aircraft is increased from six hours to nine hours. With the TCDL, the Shadow streams real-time, full-motion video, which can then be shared in a network with other platforms. The Shadow’s universal ground control station is interoperable with the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft and Apache attack helicopters. An AH-64E Apache pilot can maneuver the Shadow’s sensor payload to detect and identify targets while staying safely away from threats, a capability known as level of interoperability 3.
In February, the Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., awarded Textron Systems $116.5 million in contract modifications for a seventh full-rate production lot of the Shadow TCDL retrofit, with an estimated completion date of October 2018. According to Textron Systems, the Army is funding an additional 24 RQ-7B Shadow V2 upgrades.
The first Shadow V2 units were delivered to the Army in November 2014. Currently, all but two of the 117 Army and Marine Corps’ Shadow systems are under contract for the V2 upgrade, said Henry Finneral, Textron Systems vice president of tactical unmanned aircraft systems. The manufacturer has completed about 50 of the Army’s 104 systems. (Seven Army systems are allocated to the Special Operations Command.)
Shadows undergoing the block upgrade are retrofitted at Textron Systems’ facility in Hunt Valley, Md., north of Baltimore. The turnaround time to complete one system is about three months.
“The aircraft really has all the guts taken out (and) all new guts put in,” Finneral said. “In addition to the electronic and the communications upgrades, we also bring all the equipment up to the configuration (with) all the latest changes.”
In May, Army units will begin receiving a new high-definition Wescam MX-10 sensor turret for the Shadow V2. The Army is also exploring the development of a more powerful, higher-reliability Shadow Block 3 engine.
Shadows have been flown by platoons operating within Army brigade combat teams. With the retirement of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters, RQ-7Bv2 Shadow units are becoming “organic” to aviation battalions, where they are paired with Apache attack helicopters to conduct manned-unmanned teaming operations. In March 2015, the Army formed the first such unit: the 3rd Squadron, 6th Calvary Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas, which became a heavy attack-reconnaissance squadron.
“They’ve had great success,” Finneral said of the “3-6th.”