Northrop Grumman, Shield AI Tactical UAS to contest RQ-7B replacement competition
March 29, 2023
Photo: Defence Connect
Northrop Grumman and partner Shield AI have been selected by the US Army to participate in the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) competition, Increment 2, to replace the long-serving RQ-7B Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (TUAS), a platform also operated by the Australian Army.
Northrop Grumman is teamed up with Shield AI, the designer and manufacturer of the V-BAT platform, to provide best-in-class solutions for an expeditionary vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAS, capable of persistent aerial reconnaissance for US Army Brigade Combat Teams, Special Forces and Ranger battalions.
As a Future Vertical Lift program, the FTUAS is the US Army’s premier VTOL unmanned aircraft modernisation effort. As part of the planned seven-week base period contract, the Northrop Grumman-led team will define the modular open-system architecture of an enhanced V-BAT aircraft, including the integration of advanced surveillance and electronic warfare (EW) payloads.
The V-BAT UAS is an innovative, agile, compact, and lightweight platform that a combat team of two soldiers can rapidly launch and recover in challenging and on-the-move environments.
Angela Johns, vice-president, autonomous and tactical air systems, Northrop Grumman, said, “Our team’s enhanced V-BAT embodies more than 30 years of experience designing, delivering, and sustaining advanced unmanned aircraft systems, combined with a field-proven platform and production facilities. We bring a unique perspective and capabilities to this critical Army mission.”
Earlier versions of the V-BAT have supported operations for the US Navy and Marine Corps since 2016.
US Army Colonel Danielle Medaglia, Unmanned Aircraft Systems project manager, explained the importance of the program, saying, “FTUAS will revolutionise the way our soldiers fight and win wars by providing enhanced reconnaissance, surveillance, and target Acquisition with unparalleled speed and agility.”
The new enhanced V-BAT is simple to operate, has increased power, a reduced logistics tail and capacity to carry a range of interchangeable payloads, including electro-optical/infra-red, synthetic aperture radar and EW systems, offering long-term adaptability and life cycle management.
Critically, the US Army has mandated that part of FTUAS Increment 2 requirements include runway independence, point take-off and landing, and a rapidly deployable Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) capability.
When fielded, the FTUAS Inc 2 will provide a distinct tactical advantage over current systems due to increased manoeuvrability through VTOL, improved command and control supported by the On-the-Move (OTM) capability, a reduced transportation and logistics footprint, as well as significantly improved survivability due to reduced noise signature.
The Australian Army currently operates the RQ-7B Shadow 200 to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities. The air vehicle has approximately eight hours endurance, and ground troops are able to receive footage and data from the air vehicle in real-time using ground terminals.
The Australian RQ-7B are rail-launched and have a 16 foot wingspan, a gross weight of 208 kilograms, and are powered by a 29-kilowatt rotary engine.
The Australian Army is planning to introduce a small single person launched and operated UAV; the Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) — this capability is intended to provide information to commanders at the Combat Team level and below with enhanced situational awareness through improved reconnaissance and surveillance coverage. This future platform will also offer commanders near real-time video and still images with associated metadata by day and night.