WASHINGTON — General Dynamics and AeroVironment are teaming up to integrate ground combat vehicles with drone technology in preparation for two high-stakes Army and Marine Corps vehicle programs, the companies announced Oct. 8.
General Dynamics Land Systems and AeroVironment plan to network GD’s entrant for the Marine Corps’ armored reconnaissance vehicle, or ARV, program with the drone makers’ Switchblade missile and the Shrike 2 unmanned aerial system still in development by the company, said Dave Sharpin, AeroVironment’s head of tactical UAS.
The first tests will begin this fall.
The recently unveiled Shrike 2 is a hybrid vertical-takeoff-and-landing drone, with rotors that allow it to take off and land like a helicopter. It also has fixed wings to provide more endurance and the ability to fly like an airplane. It “will be the eyes in the sky, going out and doing the reconnaissance mission, finding things, reporting them back, and then once we have that situational awareness, then a Switchblade will be launched if we want to go do something kinetic with the target,” he said.
The hope, Sharpin said, is to fill a need expressed by the Marine Corps but also relevant to the Army — a vehicle that can interface with a UAS that is organic to it, as well as a new way to strike targets that would be found by the drone.
Ultimately, the companies believe they can parlay that concept into offerings for both the Marine Corps’ ARV program as well as the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle.
“The purpose of this partnership is to deliver a decisive advantage to ground combatants, to see first and strike first, across the tactical landscape,” Don Kotchman, U.S. vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Land Systems, said in a statement. “We’re confident this integrated capability, expanding the warfighter’s situational awareness, survivability and over-the-next-obstacle lethality, will define the market for years to come."
The companies are showing off a preliminary version of the concept this week at the Association for the U.S. Army’s annual conference, with exhibits at General Dynamics’ booth displaying a Shrike 2 suspended above GD’s Stryker A1 30mm prototype and a Switchblade missile system mounted on a Griffin III demonstrator.
Because GD and AeroVironment’s ultimate concept involves the still-in-the-works Shrike 2 drone, the first demonstration held this November will start by integrating the RQ-20 Puma with Switchblade and GD’s ARV prototype vehicle, Sharpin said.
Later testing could integrate elements of AeroVironment’s ground control stations into the vehicle in a more seamless way that allows the vehicle’s existing crew to control it and view the data stream, so that an additional person isn’t needed to man a separate ground control station.
Sharpin said its partnership with GD is one of AeroVironment’s first major experiments with manned-unmanned teaming, and the focus will be on making sure that operators inside the ARV get relevant information from the drone in a way that isn’t overly burdensome or confusing.
“How do we present the right information at the right time to the person that needs it and not give them a lot of extra information? That may be a place where AI comes into play as well,” he said. “You have all this information. What’s really important?”