In the unmanned sector, one representative army Unmanned Air System (UAS) fleet, Textron Systems’ RQ-7B SHADOW Tactical UAS, has accumulated 1.1 million flight hours as it accomplishes missions for international customers as well as the US Army. While this is a mature UAS programme, there a number of concurrent initiatives.
The major development in the US Army’s SHADOW programme is the upgrade of the current engine to a more powerful and quieter Block 3 configuration. The propulsion enhancement will add about 9hp to the overall engine power, meeting the demands of the airframe’s continued weight increase and other growth attributes. “In addition to that it is water-cooled, so it will have higher reliability and allow it to handle extreme temperatures more easily,” Bill Irby, Textron Systems’ Senior Vice President and General Manager, added.
As Textron Systems completes the integration of the new SHADOW engine, it is focused on other concurrent activities, one of which will provide a small mission computer update to supply more processing power and increased computing speed, in order to support more capable onboard payloads.
Mr Irby continued, “SHADOW is currently a fairly loud aircraft – and there are times in an operation when you need a quieter aircraft in order to get all the information you need real-time in an operation without ‘spooking’ anyone.” As a result, Textron Systems is leading an effort to lower the acoustic signature.
The OEM is also providing the capability to host multiple sensor versions on the aircraft. The baseline SHADOW has full motion video sensor camera, along with an EO camera with IR for night operations, and a laser designating capability. “Now, what you will have is the opportunity to put an additional sensor on, through a common installation package, which enables the integration of other payloads more easily.” Indeed, in May the army was continuing to compete different sensors for the RQ-7B payload.
Elsewhere in the SHADOW programme lifecycle, Textron Systems continues to provide contractor logistics support, including warehousing capabilities and other deliverables. “We’re really able to add value,” Mr Irby pointed out, concluding “We can troubleshoot in the field and back at home, where we have the warehouse and all the engineering capability.”