By James Drew
Weaponising the Textron Systems RQ-7 Shadow is not a priority for US Army, but it will start the process of acquiring a new engine in late 2017.
Shadow UAS programme manager for the service Lt Col Tory Burgess says the new engine must be quieter, run on heavy fuel instead of avgas, and fail far less frequently.
The engine must have an average failure rate of once every 1,000h instead of the current rate of once every 269h, says Burgess. The desired time between engine overhauls is every 500h compared to 250h today.
Burgess says the Shadow weighed 280lb (127kg) when it was introduced in 2002, but the army has since added weight by installing sophisticated new sensors and communications gear, and the current 1102 powerplant, supplied by UK firm UAV Engines, struggles.
“It’s a much better engine than it was in 2002,” he says. “[But] it’s still not good enough. Its 280-pounds good, it’s not 420-pounds good.”
According to Burgess, the army plans to issue a request for information for the new engine in late 2016 or early 2017, and funding has been programmed into the budget to start buying replacement engines in late 2017. The army intends to select two engine providers initially to test their designs.
Burgess says the service’s aviation headquarters at Fort Rucker, Alabama, has already begun formulating its requirements for the new engine, and will consider the needs of the US Marine Corps and special forces users.
The USMC had planned to carry munitions on the RQ-7, but the funding ran out and the army has little interest in continuing that effort.
“If you ask an army capabilities manager, he will tell you he’s got plenty of ways out there to drop a bomb on someone’s head,” Burgess says. “What he doesn’t have is that ability for that persistent stare all the time.”
Adding weapons would increase the weight, reducing the Shadow’s endurance, he says.