HUNTSVILLE: The Army has given Textron AAI and Martin UAV $99.5 million each to provide scout drones for testing as possible replacements for the current Shadow, the service announced this afternoon. By January, six brigades will get sample drones to use in training, including high-intensity wargames at Combat Training Centers, and their feedback will shape the Army’s final decision on a Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System. If all goes well, a formal FTUAS acquisition will start in 2021.
The FTUAS project is just one piece of the Army’s increasingly ambitious aviation overhaul, which also includes larger drones to replace the Grey Eagle (a Predator variant), air-launched mini-drones, and replacements for both the UH-60 Black Hawk transport and the retired OH-58 Kiowa scout. (The AH-64 Apache gunship will stay in service indefinitely). Collectively, these programs make up the Army’s Future Vertical Lift portfolio, which is the service’s No. 3 modernization priority, behind long-range artillery and new armored vehicles but ahead of networks, air & missile defense, and soldier equipment.
The manned aircraft will be designed and developed specifically for the Army, with some Marine and Special Operations input on the transport. But the Army’s aviation modernization director, Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen, told reporters here at the AUSA Global conference that industry is moving so fast on drones the Army can meet most of its needs off-the-shelf, with a wide range of companies providing viable options.
In fact, 11 companies competed for FTUAS, although the Army didn’t name the losing nine. Fifty percent of each competitor’s score was based on a live fly-off at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah in December and January, fifty percent on evaluations of written proposals, Army officials told reporters here this morning.
The Army has used the Shadow since 2001, and the aging drone is no longer state of the art. The service wants its new scout drone, FTUAS, to be
- quieter, so the enemy doesn’t hear it coming and either hide or shoot it down;
- smaller, so a scout drone unit can deploy in a single CH-47 Chinook helicopter instead of two and a half C-130 turboprops; and
- capable of taking off and landing without a runway, which Shadow requires.
Currently, a Shadow platoon has four drones — only some of them are in the air at any given time, while the others are maintained and refueled — plus ground control terminals and support equipment. The potential replacements are similar but not necessarily the same in terms of number of drones and ground support items.
The Shadow is unarmed and there is no plan to arm the FTUAS drone, Army officials said.