WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has chosen California-based drone manufacturer Skydio to continue in a final prototyping phase, which should lead to the company supplying the service’s first tranche of short-range reconnaissance unmanned aircraft systems.
The Short-Range Reconnaissance system is a platoon-level, small quadcopter unmanned aircraft that will provide enhanced situational awareness, a spin-off from the Army’s earlier efforts to develop a rucksack-portable UAS.
The Skydio X2D SSR system was one of six SRR prototypes the Army was evaluating against its program requirements. In a competitive downselect, the service chose two systems to enter a limited user test conducted by the Army Test and Evaluation Command.
“Based on data from this [limited user test] event, and previous milestone evaluations, the Army selected the Skydio system to remain in the prototyping phase,” an Army spokesman told Defense News.
The service will now evaluate Skydio’s final prototype in early April. Once the follow-on evaluation has been completed successfully, the Army’s program office for UAS will request approval from the Program Executive Office Aviation to enter into production with the Skydio system for the first tranche of systems.
If approved for production, the Army will begin fielding within 90 days, the spokesman added. That event is expected to start this summer.
The overall acquisition strategy for the SSR is to conduct a series of three competitive tranches. The first will be fielded to approximately one third of the Army’s SRR requirement.
Competitive prototype evaluation for the second tranche is expected to begin later this year, the spokesman said.
“We are proud to have been selected by the U.S. Army for the final integration in the SRR program,” Adam Bry, Skydio’s CEO, said in a Feb. 9 statement. “The Army has done incredible work to ensure our soldiers have access to cutting edge drone technology. This milestone is the result of years of research and development in autonomous flight and core technologies. It is a testament to the breakthrough capabilities of the Skydio X2D and our world-class team.”
Skydio’s X2D comes with “the world’s leading AI-driven flight autonomy software,” according to the company statement. It is a foldable and portable system “that leverages hyper-strength composites to withstand the most demanding environments,” the statement adds.
The UAS comes with a color FLIR thermal sensor and a GPS-based night flight capability and strobe lighting. It can also fly for up to 35 minutes on a single battery, the company said.
In August 2020, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit chose five American-manufactured drone companies as trusted small UAS. Those manufacturers are Altavian, Parrot, Skydio, Teal and Vantage Robotics.
The drones available to the Pentagon through the program are required to be assembled in two minutes or less and have an operational range of more than 3 kilometers, flight endurance greater than 30 minutes and can fly through dust and rain and other degraded environments.
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.