The RQ-7 Shadow drone
MESA, Arizona — As the U.S. Army Futures Command opens its doors in Austin, Texas, one of its primary tasks will be "taking a new look at how we're acquiring our systems," Bill Lewis, the director of the Army Aviation Development Directorate, told the Vertical Flight Society's 6th Annual eVTOL symposium here.
The focus will be on "embracing what's out there" and delivering products, including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), quickly to Army units in the field, he said.
Indeed, the new modernization-focused Futures Command was designed to overhaul the service’s approach to acquiring emerging technologies. One big issue in the UAS realm is whether smaller companies can still respond quickly to the new Army emphasis after their acquisition by larger firms. Boeing, for example, has acquired Aurora Flight Sciences for its UAS expertise.
In a turn about from times past, the commercial world has been driving technology development in the military. The investments by commercial industry in areas like urban air mobility, for example, and the swelling commercial UAS demand mean that quick response times to Army requirements are likely, Lewis said.
For programs like the Army's Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the emphasis will be on fielding what is sufficient to meet the needs in the field, not the perfect solution, he said.
For the program, the Army plans to pick Group 2 or Group 3 UAS. The autonomous tactical drone should have a minimum range of 100 km, be runway independent and able to transmit intelligence data to a Boeing AH-64 Apache. The vehicle should also be survivable in contested environments. The concept of operations is for the drones to scout out the terrain before manned helicopters arrive.
The Army plans to fly prototypes for the $100 million program by 2023.
Manned-unmanned teaming, or MUM-T, has been a singular focus for the Army since it decided to retire the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter. Instead of developing and fielding a clean-sheet replacement, service leaders decided the AH-64 Apache teamed with RQ-7 Shadow drones could perform the armed scout mission.
The Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems are to replace the RQ-7.