Unmanned Vehicles

PREMIUM: US Army gears up for new round of RQ-7B Shadow Block III tests

13th August 2020 - 10:00 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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The US Army will soon move to a RQ-7B Shadow Block III Follow-On Operational Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) phase as it looks to bolster capabilities of the long-serving tactical UAS.

The individual elements of the Block III configuration have already been tested by the army as part of New Equipment Training but the new FOT&E phase, scheduled to begin at Fort Bliss, Texas, in Q3 2020, will be the first time the system has been tested in full.

‘Operational testing will provide data on the effectiveness, suitability, and survivability of the Shadow Block III, including Key Performance Parameters and primary system requirements testing,’ a US Army spokesperson said in a statement.

‘Testing will specifically focus on gathering data related to new system functionality, most notably the High Definition video payload and the increased reliability propulsion system.’

Block III replaces the current POP-300 EO/IR payload with a larger L3Harris manufactured MX-10D multi-sensor, multi-spectral imaging and targeting system and a new water-cooled engine to reduce Shadow’s acoustic signature.

The MX-10D will also deliver an extended standoff target and identification capability and geolocation tagging of air and land targets, though exact standoff distance details remain undisclosed.

According to Shephard Defence Insight, the MX-10D is integrated on US Army Raven UAVs, Canadian Army Skeldar UAVs, Malaysian MD 530G helicopters and UH-60 Blackhawks operated by an unidentified country in the Middle East.

An enhanced communications relay through the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) had been a central feature of Block III until at least 7 August, according to Textron, but the army has since confirmed to Shephard that the capability ‘will not be part’ of the upgrade.

At the time of publication, no further comment on the issue or clarification, relating to the reason behind the difference of opinion, had been provided by the army or Textron.

Once testing is complete a first unit equipped milestone will be targeted in Q4 FY2021.

A full Shadow system comprises four aircraft and ground support equipment, with units due to receive upgrade kits to field the Block III configuration.

US army combat aviation brigades and SF units will field the new Shadow variant, with both parties scheduled to finish fielding the system before the end of Q4 FY2023, according to the army. 

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