Textron’s Shadow RQ-7B V2 Block III. (Courtesy of Textron)
AUSA 2022 — As the US Army plans to swap out its Textron Systems RQ-7B Shadow drones in brigade combat teams for a new tactical unmanned aerial system, the manufacturer is upgrading the Shadow, expecting other parts of the Army will use it for years to come.
Textron Systems is already fielding Shadow Block III unmanned aircraft to combat aviation brigades and special forces units, the company recently told Breaking Defense. The company said it is upgrading the performance and reliability of the aircraft as it prepares for the UAS to be used by Army units through at least 2036 “and likely beyond that,” according to Wayne Prender, senior vice president for air systems at Textron.
“The scenarios and the places that Shadow will be operated in the next 15 years, they’re going to be more contested as compared to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters,” Prender said ahead of the Association of the United States Army annual conference. “So we’re actively working with the Army to ensure that our system is more survivable in those contested environments.”
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Since the Army selected Textron’s Shadow program in 1999, the drone has flown 1.3 million flight hours. On the battlefield, soldiers used the Shadow for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, and the platform also serves as an aerial communications relay to connect ground networks.
But over the last several years, the Army has been working to replace its infantry brigades’ runway-dependent Shadows with the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System, an as-yet undecided new platform capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Textron has put forward another, smaller drone, the Aerosonde, for that competition.
For the Shadow, Textron still has customers elsewhere in the service. So far, the company said it has fielded about 100 of the new the Shadow Block IIIs and plans to get the bird in the hands of all 11 of the Army’s combat aviation brigades.
On Block III, Prender said Textron increased engine power by 24 percent, allowing the engine to aircraft’s gross take-off weight to 537 pounds and 95 pounds of payload. Because of that, the new block is also 60 percent quieter.
A Textron Shadow drone takes off from a mobile launcher. (Courtesy of Textron)
The company also has more on-board power and includes a computer, which Prender said would allow Textron to make future upgrades to Shadows down the line. In addition, the aircraft carries higher-fidelity, higher-definition electro-optical/infrared cameras, which can increase the stand-off range.
Prender said the Block III Shadow will also be able to carry more special mission payloads, including electronic warfare and intelligence systems, and provide increased communications relay ability to connect or extend the range of ground networks. To enhance Shadow’s survivability, the Block III aircraft can operate in up to two inches of rain, Prender said.
To upgrade the drones, the company sends units new vehicles that fit into existing equipment, and the company sends the old drones back to the factory for “reset and refurbishment,” where they come out as Block III air vehicles. The company is currently 40 percent through “new equipment training” courses that last about five weeks, which includes two weeks of ground familiarization and three weeks of flight training, he said.
The Future (Tactical Unmanned Aerial System) Is Vertical
Under the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System program, the Army is looking for a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) drone to reduce dependency on runaways, as well as a platform that can operate in weather.
Prender said that the company’s small UAS offering, Aerosonde, is designed to do that, and can also be equipped with over 40 different variations of electronic warfare, signals intelligence and other special payloads — payloads that Prender said could also be configured for the Shadow in the future.
The Aerosonde platform will take part in Project Convergence 22, where it will demonstrate different capabilities, including EW. As it competes for the FTUAS program of record, Textron leaders believe that the company’s decades of experience in provided unmanned systems to Army, including the Shadow, will be a major benefit.
“We understand what those soldiers go through. It needs to be simple, it needs to be intuitive. It needs to work every time. It needs to be ready when they are for the missions at hand,” Prender said.
This content was originally published here.