Vertical Lift Drones. Five brigades across the Army were selected to test unmanned aircraft systems and provide feedback to Army leadership looking to replace the RQ-7 Shadow, which was introduced in the mid-2000s.
The vertical lift drones systems can launch almost anywhere, offer a better chance of survival in combat against a peer adversary and have quieter motors that will prevent targets from detecting their presence.
Vertical Lift Drones
U.S. Army began fielding the new drones to the five brigades across the force this spring, with 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, receiving Arcturus UAV’s JUMP 20 in mid-March.
JUMP 20 is the largest of the four drones being tested, weighing in at 210 pounds with an 18-foot wingspan.
The 17-hour flight time, vertical takeoff ability and reduced noise while in-flight will be a game-changer.
The Army is looking for a replacement with reduced noise signature to retain the element of surprise and prevent targets from scattering if they see or hear the drone.
Vertical take-off is another specification the Army is seeking.
It will allow launch and recovery at more locations, including austere ones without runways, and it should reduce the amount of equipment needed by soldiers.
Soldiers at the 101st Airborne Division have been testing out Martin UAV’s V-BAT.
The V-BAT is unique in that it sits on its tail end during launches.
Vertical Lift Drones Transport and Deploy
A lot of the requirements the Army has put forth stemmed from an increasingly important operational need to be more “expeditious,” according to Maj. John Holcomb, the future tactical unmanned aircraft systems assistant product manager.
“One requirement we looked at for all the systems is the entire system could be loaded up on two Air Force 463L pallets and fit inside of a CH-47 [helicopter],” Holcomb said. “A Shadow system takes C-130s to get into theater and move around all the equipment that’s required.”
These future drone systems will allow tactical commanders to not rely on airfields, noted Lt. Col. Brian Angell, involved in the tests.
That could be important in a future fight against peer competitors like China and Russia that are able to pound stationary airfields and hangers with long-range weapons.
A brigade at the 2nd Infantry Division on Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, began their own assessment of a third drone, Textron Systems’ Aerosonde™ HQ .
Later in the summer, the 1st Armored Division at Fort bliss, Texas, is scheduled to test L3 Harris’ FVR-90 drone.
Futures Command hopes to complete the fielding process with a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division in September, when the paratroopers will test a second version of Arcturus UAV’s JUMP 20 with different payloads.
The assessments will culminate with brigade-level combat training center rotations at Fort Polk, Louisiana, or Fort Irwin, California.
Army officials have tentatively stated previously that the plan is to have the first unit equipped sometime in fiscal year 2024.
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