Sky Warrior Heads to Combat
The U.S. Army is accelerating production of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1 Sky Warrior to field provisional units of the unmanned aerial system (UAS) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The initiative is aimed at addressing an urgent need for additional intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition capabilities in each of those theaters.
The first Block 1 Sky Warrior flew March 31 at the company’s El Mirage Flight Operations Facility in Adelanto, Calif., General Atomics said. That marked a big milestone in the $2 billion program, which aims to build 17 aircraft and seven ground systems in its initial phase. Sky Warrior is designed to use either diesel or jet fuel to fly long-range reconnaissance missions. It’s a cousin of the U.S. Air Force’s popular Predator UAS, which has played a big role in Iraq and Afghanistan operations since the war began. The initial version will have electro-optical and infrared sensors as well as synthetic aperture radar. Already, the Army has deployed two Block 0 Sky Warriors to units in Iraq, where missions began in mid-April. Meanwhile, Block 1 flight testing continues. Sky Warrior completed its first endurance flight at China Lake-25.6 hr with no anomalies and fuel endurance calculations better than predicted, according to General Atomics, which added that "this performance will help ensure the aircraft’s readiness for extended flight operations in Iraq."
Sky Warrior’s accelerated schedule shows the Army’s persistence in getting a high-altitude drone of its own, despite Air Force efforts to centralize the Pentagon’s unmanned aircraft program. The Air Force lobbied the Pentagon and Congress to become the "executive agent" for high-flying UASs. But the Army fought back, saying its commanders needed full authority to call for missions when needed. Said Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson: "Air Force lost. Period." — Rebecca Christie