AUSA: Small drones, unmanned helicopters top US Army priorities

Washington DC
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This story is sourced from Flight International
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The US Army has turned acquisition efforts over the next decade towards buying micro-sized and large vertical take-off unmanned air systems (UAS) to round-out a fairly diverse inventory.

A new UAS weighing no more than 0.91kg (2lb) is being sought as an addition to the 2kg-class AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven and the 5.89kg Puma, said Col Robert Sova, UAS capabilities manager for the army aviation branch.

"That gives us a true micro capability," Sova told journalists on 11 October.

The need for the micro-UAS has been established for several years, but recent spending reviews have slowed the budgeting process, he said.

The RQ-11 is also being upgraded with a gimballed sensor to make it more effective as a surveillance aircraft, he added.

Meanwhile, the army has also launched a process to replace the Northrop Grumman RQ-5 Hunter with an unmanned helicopter. The medium-range, multi-purpose (MRMP) programme was launched earlier this year.

"[Vertical take-off and landing] enables some capabilities that some fixed-wing aircraft do not have," Sova said. He listed the ability to carry sensors designed to operate at near-zero airspeed.

The MRMP is expected to serve initially as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft when fielded around Fiscal 2015 but the army could expand the role to carrying cargo and weapons.

Contenders already include the Boeing YMQ-18A Hummingbird and the Northrop Fire-X, an unmanned version of the Bell Helicopter 407.

The army plans to send the YMQ-18A on a quick reaction capability (QRC) deployment to Afghanistan, said Tim Owings, deputy programme executive officer for the army UAS.

Funding to complete two more follow-on QRC aircraft has been held up in budget reviews, Owings added.