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Unmanned Vehicles

US Army takes mixed-fleet FTUAS buy into consideration

3rd March 2021 - 16:30 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

The US Army has just wrapped up almost a year's worth of FTUAS testing and is looking ahead to a formal acquisition. It could see fit to buy more than one aircraft type currently under consideration.

The US Army is not ruling out buying a variety of systems currently included in the Future Tactical UAS (FTUAS) effort, that will eventually see the service’s RQ-7B Shadow replaced.

A formal acquisition has still to start but four competitors are under contract for test demonstrations, with the army open to the idea of awarding production contracts to more than one manufacturer.

‘Whether we buy one or more systems is certainly a conversation to be had and I know everyone is very anticipatory of an acquisition strategy,’ said BG Robert Barrie, PEO Aviation, US Army, during a 2 March virtual media roundtable.

‘That will all be dealt with based on how requirements are formalised and the resources that will sit alongside those requirements, but [buying more than one system] that is certainly a potential path forward.’

The Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) will ultimately decide and approve FTUAS requirements.  

‘In the coming weeks, we’ve committed to an AROC [meeting],’ said BG Walter Rugen, director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team in US Army Futures Command. He suggested that FTUAS requirements are to be approved shortly.

The army also completed a FTUAS ‘Rodeo’ flight demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia on 2 March, when all four aircraft were tested by five Brigade Combat Teams, consolidating previous tests that started with the fixed-wing Arcturus Jump 20 on 7 April 2020.

As well as the Jump 20, other systems involved include Textron’s Aerosonde HQ, Martin UAV’s V-Bat and the L3Harris FVR-90. 

‘What we just completed is the culmination of an extremely successful soldier touchpoint [strategy] for future tactical unmanned aerial systems,’ said MG David Francis, head of the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence.

‘It was cold and raining today but all systems were able to be launched, demonstrate [expected] capabilities and were recovered successfully. This is exactly what we want in terms of our “buy, try and inform” strategy.’

Flight in similar conditions would not have been possible with the RQ-7 and ‘all soldiers spoke to the ability’ of being able to talk without experiencing excessive noise levels during pre-flight checks, while the army has also witnessed a ‘leap ahead’ in sensor technology with the newer UAVs, Rugen suggested.    

Increased capabilities are tempered by the fact that payloads collecting rain limit ISR activities or force operators to ‘get off target', explained Specialist Athenia Bailey of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team in the 1st Armored Division.

Flight data and solider feedback are two of the main contributors being used to support acquisition requirements but the army has already settled on any future aircraft being runway-independent and rapidly deployable, using a lower acoustic signature compared to Shadow and transportable in a Boeing CH-47 Chinook.

Discussing issues around C-UAS threats, Rugen also confirmed that an encrypted datalink will be used with any new aircraft procured, adding that an ability to ‘drop waypoints’ and be ‘very unpredictable in our loiter’ has already been proven during FTUAS Combat Training Center rotations.

‘Survivability is always on our mind, it’s not just technology [to be thought about] but also tactics,’ he said.


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