The US Marine Corps has decided to experiment with arming the AAI RQ-7 Shadow, in a move that could lead to adding hundreds of unmanned air systems (UAS) to the weaponized fleet.
The Marines recently received clearance from policymakers to arm the RQ-7, said Col. Jim Rector, program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command's small tactical (STUAS) office. There had been questions about whether the normally catapult-launched RQ-7 would violate a nuclear nonproliferation treaty, but those were overcome, he added.
The Marines will now perform field trials of an army RQ-7 with a precision munition selected by AAI, Rector said. The Marines are not specifying the munition for the experiment, but are requiring that AAI select a weapon that is ready to enter production with no additional development, he said.
If the experiment is successful, the next step would be to extend the evaluation into the deployed environment. Rector said the operational trial could be conducted in Afghanistan or at a predeployment readiness exercise called "Mojave Viper."
The entire evaluation process is likely to take 18-24 months, he said.
The trial means the RQ-7 could join the ranks of weaponized UAS, which already include the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) MQ-1B, MQ-1C and MQ-9.
The US Army also has hundreds of RQ-7s, but has chosen to let the Marines take the lead on weaponization of UAS below the MQ-1 class.
Rector also said the Insitu RQ-21 Integrator is designed with hard points to carry weapons, but there is no requirement so far to arm the future STUAS fleet.