Aircraft manufacturers Griffon Aerospace and Textron Systems have both advanced to the flight stage of the US Army’s Future Tactical Uncrewed Aerial System (FTUAS) programme.

The service said on 25 April that both Griffon and Textron were selected for the third phase of the FTUAS competition, which aims to deliver a replacement for the Textron RQ-7B Shadow that currently provides surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition support to the army’s ground combat units.

Textron Systems_Aerosonde(R) Mk. 4.8 HQ_FTUAS _1 (1)

Source: Textron

Textron is competing its Aerosonde 4.8 hybrid quad-rotor for the US Army’s Future Tactical UAS programme

Both firms were chosen for the second phase of FTUAS in October 2023, beating out rivals Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada. A bid from AeroVironment had been eliminated in May 2023.

Phase three of the competition will include flight demonstrations, open-systems architecture verification and the opportunity for operator-level soldiers to evaluate the prototypes.

Textron and Griffon were simultaneously selected for phase four of the programme, which covers delivery of production representative prototypes and operational demonstrations. These will include assessing the impact of electromagnetic and environmental variables, aircraft transportability and additional flight evaluations.

According to the army, requirements for FTUAS designs include runway independence, point take-off and landing – also known as VTOL – and a rapidly deployable capability. The goal of the new aircraft is to improve the ability of ground troops to “collect, develop and report actionable intelligence”.

The army notes the requirement of VTOL capability will significantly expand the effectiveness and flexibility of the future UAV when compared to its predecessor. The RQ-7B must be launched from a pneumatic catapult.

Textron is offering its Aerosonde 4.8 hybrid quad-rotor design, which features four vertically oriented rotors for generating lift and a rear-mounted push propeller for horizontal flight.

Griffon Valiant

Source: Griffon Aerospace

Griffon’s Valiant design features four rotating nacelles, similar to a tiltrotor

“The Aerosonde Mk. 4.8 HQ UAS is a low-risk offering that has participated in risk-reduction flights and builds upon operator feedback and decades of UAS experience,” says Textron vice-president for air systems Wayne Prender. “Textron Systems’ expertise in UAS systems integration and manufacturing positions us to accelerate at whatever speed the Army requests to provide our FTUAS solution.”

Griffon is competing its Valiant design, which also features a rotating quad-rotor configuration. Similar to a tiltrotor, its nacelle assemblies pivot between vertical and horizontal flight modes.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest FTUAS programme developments.

The final FTUAS selection is expected to operate at low to medium altitudes and include capabilities such as modern data links, electro-optical and infrared sensors, infrared-laser target designation, laser range finding, data encryption, manned-unmanned teaming technologies and the ability to operate autonomously, the army says.

The service also notes that FTUAS designs must be able to operate in environments lacking GPS navigation capabilities.