With the recent theater deployment of a second “quick reaction capability” (QRC) package for its “Gray Eagle” unmanned aerial system, U.S. Army elements in Afghanistan have expanded their aerial combat power. Prior to its recent official naming as Gray Eagle, the program was known by the developmental names of Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP), the General Atomics – ASI industry names of Warrior and Sky Warrior, and even the Army-requested designation as “Grey Eagle” (the Air Force, which had approval authority, changed the spelling to “Gray”).
Seen as a follow-on to the aging Hunter UAS system, the MQ-1C ER/MP was developed to provide combat commanders with improved real-time response capabilities to conduct long-dwell, wide area reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, communications relay, and attack missions, the aircraft has a wing span of 56 feet, length of 28 feet, and operating altitude to 25,000 feet.
The QRCs are a way to provide quick enhancement of tactical combat capabilities through the fielding of small quantities of the platforms while further capabilities are still being refined for future production.
A Gray Eagle “QRC 2” update was included in the overall UAS program overview provided during this week’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C.
According to Col. Gregory Gonzalez, the UAS project manager in the Program Executive Office for Aviation at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., the initial Gray Eagle capability, “QRC 1,” was fielded into Iraq in 2009.
“That quick reaction capability platoon has flown now over 6,000 hours in Iraq, and is doing well supporting the division commander in that theater,” he said.
“We also deployed ‘QRC 2’ into Afghanistan in September of this year,” he added. “All of the equipment and all of the soldiers are ‘in theater’ at this time. They are supporting Army Special Operations Forces [ARSOF], so I am not at liberty to say exactly where the unit is located or what unit it is. But they were deployed on time and we expect great responses from the unit and some feedback on how that unit is operating.”
There are four aircraft in each QRC.
“The ‘QRC 2’ has the initial capabilities that we had in the ‘QRC 1,’” he explained. But, in addition to that, we have also added some new capabilities. Our strategy has always been to field early and then add capabilities as we go. We have added the Hellfire missile capability into QRC 2, so ARSOF will have that. And we are seeing more and more use of unmanned weapons in theater, which indicates two things: That the war in Afghanistan is increasingly kinetic and that the commanders’ confidence in the ability of an unmanned aircraft to safely and effectively employ weapons is also increasing.”
“We also have a ‘beyond line of sight’ capability in the ‘QRC 2,’ and that’s some increased difficulty, both in terms of communication and command and control – we’re learning lots of lessons about that. We have also added increased software and updates to that as well. So we will continue to make improvements in the Gray Eagle system.”
“’QRC 1’ and ‘QRC 2’ are critical to give us feedback and to prepare for the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation that the Gray Eagle will go through in September of 2011,” he noted. “That will then lead to the full rate production of the Gray Eagle system and its full deployment.”