The US Army is modernising its fleet of General Atomics-built MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and is also planning to acquire an additional 29 UAS to equip each soldier division with reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting and acquisition (RSTA) capabilities.
Aviation major general Tim Crosby, programme executive officer, said that Gray Eagle capability modernisation plans were the latest in a series of upgrades being performed on the system over the last several years.
"We are going to put SAR GMTI on it and we are going to put air data telay on it. These are combat capabilities that our warfighters are calling for," Crosby added.
UAS project manager colonel Tim Baxter added that the Gray Eagle quick reaction capability (QRC) represented the army's efforts to refine requirements for an acquisition programme, upgrade the sensors and software, as well as provide the soldiers with enhanced capabilities in the battlefield.
"This is a contingency-based program," he said. "We've been putting kits in the field, while simultaneously in the background developing the system as part of a programme of record. This has been an iterative process."
According to Crosby, the new capabilities will be added depending on the feedback obtained from the soldiers deployed in the theatre.
Additional planned upgrades for the Gray Eagle include integration of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR), ground-moving target indicator (GMTI), sensor and an air data relay (ADR) capability.
Crosby said the Gray Eagle acquisition programme had recently been approved by the Pentagon and is preparing for a formal initial operational test and evaluation, to be held towards the end of the year, during which the UAS will formally demonstrate its capabilities while working jointly with the army's Block III Apache helicopter.
The MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an extended-range multi-purpose (ERMP) Hellfire missile-equipped UAS, designed to conduct long-endurance surveillance, communications relay, and weapons delivery missions.
Two QRC units, each comprising of four aircraft, ground control stations and supporting equipment, are operating in Afghanistan, since 2009.
Image: A US Army's MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS lands on Camp Taji in Iraq. Photo: courtesy of the US Army.