The US Marine Corps hopes to have its AAI RQ-7 Shadow unmanned air vehicle armed in the next 12- to 18-months, moving ahead without the US Army as a partner in the weaponisation programme.
"All the other services have an unmanned system that delivers ordinance," says Lt Col Brad Beach from a joint services panel at the Army Aviation Association of America unmanned aerial systems conference near Washington on 13 December, calling the USMC's need to weaponise the UAV "urgent."
Although the Army Aviaton and Missile Command issued a request for information in April seeking data on precision-guided weapons weighing 11.3kg (25lb) or less that could be fielded within 12 months of a contract award and said as recently as October that it would take the lead on development of Shadow weaponisation with the USMC, the programme is no longer on the table for the army.
"Army leadership to this date has made the decision that we are not pursuing to weaponise systems below our Gray Eagle platform, which is Hellfire-capable right now," says Col Robert Sova, capability manager for UAVs at the Army Training and Doctrine Command.
For the Marines to turn around a weapons programme in such rapid fashion could prove difficult. So far, no request for proposals has been drafted to kick off the Pentagon's acquisition process.
Even without an RFP in place, Raytheon has been pressing ahead with UAV weaponisation, successfully flight-testing the Small Tactical Munition (STM) at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona in October launching from a Cobra UAV, the company says. This would make the weapon a logical choice for the Shadow. The smallest in Raytheon's arsenal, at 0.6m-long (2ft) and weighing 5.9kg, it and was specifically designed for use by unmanned platforms. The dual-mode, semi-active laser seeker and INS/GPS guidance system enable it to engage fixed and moving targets in all weather conditions, the company says.
The STM is based in large part on the Griffin missile - a 0.84m, 19kg motorised weapon developed two years ago by Raytheon. While the Griffin could also be an option for the Pentagon in arming the Shadow, the STM is small enough to allow the 4.3m-long Shadow to carry several.