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07 June 2016

Combat-tested Textron SHADOW Programme Achieves 1 Million Flight Hour Milestone

US correspondent Marty Kauchak provides highlights of the 6 June 2016 US Army-Textron Systems’ Unmanned Systems Media Roundtable which discussed the SHADOW Tactical Unmanned Air System (UAS) and related topics.      

This May 12, the Textron Systems Unmanned Systems’ SHADOW programme achieved its one million flight hour milestone. Of the one million hours, “approximately 85 percent have been in actual combat operations,” Bill Irby, the senior vice president & general manager of the Textron division observed.

One hundred four SHADOW tactical UASs (TUAS) are in service in Army tactical brigade teams, combat aviation brigades and special forces groups. Another 13 SHADOW UASs have been delivered to the US Marine Corps. Textron is on contract to deliver another 24 V2 variants which will allow the Army to have a fleet of 102 V2s and two of the earlier V1 systems. The service expects to have all 102 V2s in its unmanned fleet not later than fiscal year 2019.  

The initial SHADOW delivery to the Army customer was in 2001. Army Lieutenant Colonel Tory Burgess, his service’s product manager for Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems, told the roundtable attendees that SHADOW, “has been a fantastic tool for our ground combatant commanders in being able to find and fix the enemy.”

The baseline SHADOW technology will continue to expand, permitting the TUAS to remain in the Army fleet until at least 2035.

The Army’s most recent operational focus has been paring SHADOW with Boeing AH-64 APACHEs to accomplish manned-unmanned teaming. Indeed, this effort is accelerating as more AH-64Es and Shadow V2s enter the Army air order of batttle. “Those systems will not only be able to complete level of interoperability (LOI) 2 (getting the ‘feed’ from the SHADOW in the Apache cockpit), but also be able to do LOI 3 (command of the TUAS payload from the APACHE cockpit) and LOI 4(command of the actual SHADOW from the APACHE cockpit). We’re well on our way to solidifying these and putting them out there – those are our next steps.”           

In another instance the industry-military team is seeking a more powerful and reliable engine with improved acoustic signature for SHADOW V2. “Currently on the SHADOW V2 [UK-based], UEL is the engine provider. They are also developing an engine under the Block 3 programme which is a larger engine with more horse power. They are in the process of going through the [technical development] phase of that programme that would lead to a competitive production procurement that the US Army will be coming out with later this year,”  Henry Finneral, Textron’s vice president of Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems, said.

In a third technology thrust, while the Army has no formal requirement to weaponise the SHADOW platform Textron has an internal research and development project to integrate a weapon on the V2 and its larger M2 sibling. Finneral continued, “The system would be able to accept a variety of weapons but the one we have focused on is the FURY weapon which is manufactured by the Textron Weapons and Sensors Division.”

Additionally, “we plan to make more laser designator procurements,” the Army’s Burgess pointed out and added, “A platoon of four air vehicles only has two laser designators and two non-laser designators associated with it. We plan to procure more laser designators.”

The Army is also seeking to better weatherize the SHADOW vehicle, permitting it to be flown in two inches (50mm) of rain per hour. While the Shadow is difficult to fly in this rainfall condition, the effort will permit the operator to transition airspace and be a more effective team mate with an APACHE.          

The Army’s Burgess further emphasized that new payloads are not in the programme of record.  “While there are several other capable payloads that could be integrated on the SHADOW, we are just doing the EO and IR. While we have the capability to do more it is driven by requirements – we are waiting on those requirements to be leveed on us.”          

The SHADOW is in service with defence forces in Australia, Sweden and Italy. Textron’s Irby revealed, “There has been a lot of interest in the system and in variants of the system in the Middle East region as well as several countries in Europe. There are ongoing discussions between Textron and those customers directly. And some are being facilitated by the Army.”

Photo depicts: This May 12, the Textron Systems Unmanned Systems’ Shadow program achieved its one million flight hour milestone. Of the one million hours, “approximately 85 percent have been in actual combat operations,” Bill Irby, the senior vice president & general manager of the Textron division observed. (Source: Textron)