The US Army says the operational tempo for unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in Iraq will likely increase as US combat units leave the country this year.

"I don't see the op tempo slowing," says Col. Gregory Gonzalez, program manager for Army unmanned aircraft systems. "The need to cover ground is the same even though there are [fewer] troops. We're seeing a significant increase in communications relay and communications extension missions."

Officials say the leading indicator of UAV activity - flying hours at test and acceptance facilities in the US - has increased by a factor of two, primarily for the Shadow 200 aircraft. Gonzalez says along with additional RQ-5 Hunter UAVs and contractor run aircraft going into theatre this fall, its second quick reaction capability unit (QRC-2) will be operational in Afghanistan next year. "It's not going to slow down any time soon," says Gonzalez of UAV operation in the two theatres.

A contingent of four new Grey Eagle unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) comprising QRC-2 will go operational in Afghanistan in September 2011, with developmental and other preoperational testing starting this fall, says Gonzalez. Upgrades to QRC-2 compared to the QRC-1 Grey Eagles, formerly known as MQ-1C Sky Warriors, include installation of four Hellfire missiles under wing and a satellite communications system. QRC-1 aircraft do not carry weapons.

Along with the common sensor payload electro-optical and infrared sensor package, the Grey Eagles will carry a StarLite synthetic aperture radar. The Army says QRC-1, which deployed to Iraq in January, has flown more than 5,000 safe flight hours to date.

Source: Flight Daily News