Textron is determined to arm its “Version 2” and next-generation “Mark 2” Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft with its lightweight Fury weapons even without serious interest from the US Army, which is more keen to diversify the weaponry available on its General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1C Gray Eagles.
The all-digital RQ-7B V2 Shadow entered service with the army in late 2014, and Textron expects to deliver 20-25 systems annually, each consisting of four aircraft and two ground stations, over the next five years as the service replaces legacy platforms.
Meanwhile, Textron continues to market the new Shadow “M2” air vehicle domestically and abroad, touting its more powerful engine, payload capacity, endurance and potential satellite communications capability for beyond-line-of-sight reconnaissance missions.
The M2 and Textron’s Aerosonde small UAV are both on display at this year’s Dubai air ahow, along with the Fury miniature munition that Textron hopes will arm modern RQ-7 variants as well as other manned and unmanned platforms.
"We’ve done several flights of Shadow with the Fury," says Henry Finneral, Textron vice-president of tactical unmanned aircraft systems. “Another one is coming up before the end of the year. The Fury weapon is very mature. It’s not on any aircraft right now, but it’s been flown and dropped in several tests.”
Weighing just 6kg (13lb), Fury came about through a discontinued US Marine Corps effort to arm the Shadow after the Pentagon identified approximately 90 occasions where a UAV identified enemy combatants planting improvised explosive devices but got away because the platform was unarmed.
The V2 Shadow has been test flown with two Fury munitions, while the M2 can carry four.
Even without a launch customer, Textron has assembled five Shadow M2 systems for development and demonstration. Finneral says one example has been outfitted with satellite communications link as a proof of concept.
“We wouldn’t take out the line-of sight-capability, [but] adding SATCOM just gives the warfighter more options and more capability,” he says.
Shadow UAVs have recently started deploying alongside Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters as aerial scouts and don’t require satellite control. Textron, however, thinks there are many other long-range observation missions that can be performed by Shadow but require satellite control.