The RQ-7 Shadow drone
The U.S. Army has dedicated $12 million in its fiscal 2020 budget request to kickstart development of a Future Unmanned Aircraft System (FUAS) to eventually replace the RQ-7B Shadow drone at the brigade level.
In its fiscal 2020 base budget, the Army set aside $12.1 million to buy 12 “attrition air vehicles,” training and program manager support at an estimated unit cost of $632,500, according to Army budget documents.
“The Future Unmanned Aircraft System (FUAS) is a critical system in the multi-domain battle concept that will employ cross-domain capabilities at all echelons and allow ground based forces to project power from land into other domains to defeat highly capable enemies, secure terrain, and consolidate gains,” according to the Army’s fiscal 2020 budget justification book.
Oversight of the FUAs program falls to the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Cross Functional Team (CFT), which is also tasked with development of the Army’s next-generation rotorcraft. Demonstrations will allow the Army to survey existing industry offerings and capabilities to help write requirements for the Shadow’s replacement.
A materiel development decision will is scheduled for fiscal 2021, “followed by a decision that will identify the appropriate entry into the Milestone Decision process,” according to the Army. “FTUAS will leverage universal and scalable control interfaces and plug-and-play, advanced payloads to optimize manned-unmanned teaming for air and ground maneuver units across all environments.”
The system eventually chosen should increase the Army’s reach through increased speed, range, endurance, and payload capacity. It should provide improved protection for itself and soldiers on the ground in high-threat and denied environments, with assured communications, navigation, and reduced visual, electronic, and audio signatures able to overcome enemy countermeasures in high threat, anti-access and area denial (A2AD) environments.
FTUAS also will carry weapons and sensors to increase the lethality of the Army’s Brigade Combat Teams. The platform will consist of an aircraft system including the airframe, propulsion, avionics, communications, navigation, and software systems; aircraft-specific ground support equipment including take-off and landing systems, power generation, transportation, or unique command and control equipment; aircraft software; and required engineering, logistics, and programmatic support.