WASHINGTON — The Army is calling for ready-to-fly future tactical unmanned aircraft systems that it can demonstrate with a select group of brigade combat teams in an effort to ultimately replace its Shadow UAS with something that better meets the needs of units in the field, according to Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, the program executive officer for Army Aviation.
The service dropped a solicitation to industry on Sept. 28 stating its desire to procure up to two non-developmental UAS that would fit either into the category of 21- to 55-pound drones or weigh under 1,320 pounds (UAS group 2 or 3), according to the document posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website.
The Army has been looking for UAS that could operate independently from a runway and perform better in austere conditions than its current system at the tactical level.
Earlier this year, the outgoing director of Army aviation in the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for operations, planning and training, told Defense News that the Army sees a potential “quick win” when it comes to replacing Shadow.
And the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team — part of Army Futures Command — has already begun examining the possibility of new capabilities for both manned and unmanned future flight.
The Army has acknowledged there are likely quite a few ready-to-go options when it comes to a new tactical UAS.
So, it will take the approach of “buy, try, decide” to get after the possible replacement of Shadow, Todd told Defense News in an interview shortly after the solicitation was released.
The plan is to assess what is offered and choose three vendors to supply 12 UAS to six BCTs that will evaluate them for a period of time in realistic environments. Each BCT will be given two UAS from each of the three chosen vendors, Todd said.
The Army plans to make a quick decision in 2019 on which vendors will field UAS to the BCTs and, according to the solicitation, vendors will have until Oct. 29 to respond to the request.
“It’s really going to be a unique event,” Todd said.
Based on soldier feedback, “ideally we would be able to move forward if we decide there is a capability that is superior to what we have. That is really what we will be trying to answer in this phase of this.”
Evidence the Army wants to move fast is the solicitation contains a request for manufacturing plans to assess whether a vendor can build what the Army needs when it needs it.
This is a way to take the “8 x 11 glossies that we have been handed on whatever everybody says they can do,” Todd said. “This is proof and industry is going to have a chance to prove it.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.