WASHINGTON: As the Marine Corps move ahead with plans to weaponize its Shadow aerial drones, one defense firm is doing all it can to ensure they’ll be in that mix.
Weapons maker MBDA will begin a new round of live flight tests of its Saber guided bomb later this year, Doug Denneny, the company’s vice president of business development, said. MBDA has been running their own tests on the Saber’s performance at the Navy test range for the past year.The upcoming tests will conducted at the Navy’s air weapons station in China Lake, he said. The company’s ongoing China Lake drills are to showcase the weapon’s viability for possible Shadow operations.
The 13-pound Saber is essentially a much smaller version of the Small Diameter Bomb used onboard Air Force fighters. It uses both laser-based and GPS guidance systems to track potential targets. The current weapon of choice for larger unmanned aircraft, like the Air Force Predator or Army Grey Eagle, is the Hellfire rocket. But the smaller Shadow can’t support the Hellfire’s massive size and weight. The Saber, on the other hand, can be fielded by the Shadow if the Marines choose to do so.
If successful, the results of the upcoming China Lake tests could pave the way for the Saber to be the first weapon fielded by Shadow drones. The Marines are in the early stages of evaluating whether to arm the Shadow. The Corps has yet to kick of a formal weapons competition for the drone program. If or when that competition begins, the upcoming China Lake tests should give MBDA a leg up on the competition, Denneny explained
The Army and the Marine Corps fly the Shadow, but so far the Army has backed off any efforts to weaponize the unmanned aircraft.On the other hand, the push to arm the Marine Corps-owned Shadows came from combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Field commanders were frustrated at the lack of firepower on the Shadow drones, Denneny explained. The unmanned aircraft were excellent at spotting targets. But by the time Marine units could train their guns onto that target, it would be too late. By getting the Saber onto the Shadow, the time between identifying a target and taking one out would be a matter of seconds, he said.