One of the activities under way in the U.S. unmanned aerial system (UAS) fleet involves the development of a weapon-carrying capability for the RQ-7 Shadow series UAS. However, the efforts are currently directed only toward Marine Corps requirements, with no current U.S. Army requirements to weaponize that platform.
Speaking at this week’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition, in Washington, D.C., Lt. Col. Scott Anderson, U.S. Army product manager for Shadow, noted that the Army manages the Shadow program on behalf of both Army and Marine Corps users.
“So, over the next 18 months, we will be undertaking a weaponization effort for Shadow for the United States Marine Corps,” he said. “We are really the integrator for that. The Marine Corps is going to pick their munition and then we will integrate it onto the platform. So we will have to go through testing and then airworthiness testing to ensure that it doesn’t degrade the current capability that we provide with the Shadow system.
“The Army’s position right now is that the Army has no plans to weaponize Shadow,” he reiterated, adding, “This is a Marine Corps effort in support of an urgent need statement out of Afghanistan. And the Marine Corps wants to end up using a quick reaction capability and the Marine Corps has established an 18-month timeline to be able to get that capability into theater.”
With the caveat that he “would not refute” what Anderson said, Col. Robert Sova, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) capabilities manager (TCM) for UAS, acknowledged, “There has been a discussion about the Army weaponizing Shadow for a long time. We work with our Marine brethren. And with the [recent] re-wing effort [increasing Shadow wingspan from 14 feet to 20 feet] we put hard points on the wings that allow 25 pounds on the wing stores. The Marine Corps definitely wants to weaponize it. And we’ll be there to support.”
He continued, “When we talk about that Full Spectrum CAB [Combat Aviation Brigade] and what we did with our Kiowa Warriors and other armed manned RSTA aircraft, is to provide them with a capability for armament. That’s for a reason: to protect themselves when they are out there doing that difficult mission that a reconnaissance team has. So now that we have replaced some of those manned aircraft with unmanned aircraft [in the Full Spectrum CAB], the discussion is back on the table. And we have just said, ‘When the Army makes the decision to do that, then we certainly are there and capable of doing it. So we are taking a hard look at it. And, as we go forward, we may change where we are at right now. But we’re in line, as we team with the Marines, to be able to do that if the Army makes the decision to weaponize something smaller than our Gray Eagle.”