ATLANTA — While the latest Army-procured version of the Shadow unmanned aircraft system still has the new car smell, Textron is developing an even more souped-up version with extra long endurance, more capable payloads and more power.
The Army is midway through converting its Shadow V1s to Shadow V2s, which that include an upgraded engine and a longer wingspan. The V2s have also been migrated from an analogue to a digital system, allowing for the integration of the Tactical Common Data Link, according to Henry Finneral, Textron’s vice president of tactical unmanned aircraft systems, who spoke to Defense News at the Army Aviation Association of America’s Mission Solutions Summit on Thursday.
The upgraded engine and the longer wingspan add three hours to the aircraft's endurance, bringing its capability from six hours to nine hours, according to Finneral. The TCDL provides the capability for the Shadow to team with the AH-64 Apache, critical to the Army's strategy to use Apaches teamed with Shadows to fill the armed reconnaissance mission following the retirement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter.
Textron's next version — Shadow M2 — provides beyond-line-of-sight connectivity, Finneral said. "So you have infinite range in terms of communications. That opens the door to a new set of missions, some of the missions would creep up on Group 4-type missions where there is always a drain on Air Force assets to come in and do long distance surveillance," he added.
Group 4 aircraft are larger aircraft than Shadow. The Air Force's Predator unmanned aircraft falls into that category.
"With the M2 and a satellite communications link, you can bring forward some of those deep insurgent-type missions at a tactical level," Finneral said, but would come in a more affordable package and would be organic to the Army unit.
A transition to the M2 version of the Shadow wouldn't be dramatic. The next-generation version would still use 80 to 85 percent commons parts with the Shadow V2, Finneral noted. The M2's fuselage is more "slick" and allows for a dramatic increase in payload capability, he said, but the V2's extended wings can be mated onto the new fuselage easily.
Textron can also repackage all of the "guts" of the system and put them right into the new fuselage, Finneral said. The aircraft will grow from 467 pounds to 720 pounds, giving it five to seven additional flights hours depending on the payload configuration. The payload configuration would allow for an additional 100 pounds of capability, he said.
The company already has several prototypes of the M2 version that it are currently flying.
In addition to working on the beyond-line-of-sight capability, Textron is investing in testing weapons on both the V2 and M2, using its own Fury munition, a small 27-inch, 12.5-pound GPS and laser-guided bomb. "It is a very accurate, controlled collateral-damage weapon," Finneral said.
The newer versions of the system would also be less susceptible to jamming. Because the system is "all digital and has enhanced power and capability that V2 brings, it opens the door for some of the newest technology to be brought forward onto Shadow to be resistant to that type of threat, and so that is in the works," according to Finneral.
The Army is also nearing a possible competition to replace the current upgraded Shadow engine. The service released a request for information (RFI) for anyone with an engine offering with responses due by May 2.
Textron is supporting the "Block III" engine replacement program and has worked with engine vendors over the past several years on how each engine might be integrated onto the platform.
The Army selected five companies' engines to evaluate as possible replacements for Shadow: L-3; Rockwell Collins; XRDi in Beaufort, South Carolina; McMinnville, Oregon-based Northwest UAV; and United Kingdom-based UAV Engines. The selections were made from a pool of 12 vendors that submitted proposals in 2012.
However, the only engine company that remains on contract for a research and development project prior to the start of a replacement competition is UEL. The company already makes the current UEL AR 741 engine on the Shadow, but the replacement engine being developed would be a higher horsepower version.
The Army is requiring at least a 50 horsepower engine.
Fortunately, According to Finneral, the Block III engine is just as compatible in the M2 version as it would be in the V2, so if the Army decided to procure the M2 version, incorporating the Block III engine would not be an issue.
Textron is also looking at new upgrades for the V2 version of the aircraft to include high-definition payload capability that comes with additional power and digital upgrades. The first high-definition payload is going to be fielded in May in theater, Finneral noted.
The Army recently awarded Textron a $116 million contract marking the latest order for fiscal 2015 and 2016 for 24 more systems.
In total, Textron will deliver 117 V2 systems — 104 to the Army and 13 to the Marine Corps — Finneral said.
"A lot of our focus with the Army is developing that update, turning the fleet over [from V1s to V2s] so we are 110 percent working on that," Finneral said.