and reportedly followed by a $10 million December 2011 contract. Installation and certification is expected to take a year, followed by a $7 million follow guided weapon that already has been developed and fielded in secrecy.”
By James K. Sanborn - Staff writer Posted : Sunday Oct 30, 2011 15:59:00 EDT The Marine Corps has kicked development of its first armed UAV into overdrive in an effort to provide Like other armed UAVs, the Corps’ RQ-7 Shadow will drop munitions both quickly and precisely to minimize collateral damage. But the Shadow’s munitions will weigh less than 25 pounds, Block said. Munitions currently used on UAVs, like the Air Force’s larger MQ-9 Reaper, include Hellfire missiles, which weigh about 100 pounds each. A lighter payload means increased flight time and range. The bombs will drop with gravity, but will be guided by a “semi-active laser seeker-head.” In layman’s terms, the UAV will “paint” the target with a laser and the bomb will home in on it.
The addition of bombs doesn’t mean the Shadow will abandon its traditional mission, Block added.
“The primary mission of the RQ-7B Shadow will remain the same — reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition,” he said. “The main difference is the weapon will allow the operator to engage time-sensitive targets.”
In the past, a separate air asset would have to be called in to kill insurgents. That can give bad guys time to flee. In 2009 for example, there were 90 incidents over a six-month period where the ability to immediately engage targets would have “enabled effective engagement of enemy forces emplacing IEDs,” Block said.
The Army had plans to arm its UAVs in conjunction with the Marine Corps, but backed out. Army officials at the annual convention of the Association of the U.S. Army said Oct. 11 that the increased weight would reduce the aircraft’s range and flight time too severely. That would equate to less time gathering intelligence or tracking targets.
Army officials, however, said they have not abandoned the idea altogether
While the Shadow would mark the Corps’ first armed UAV, it won’t likely be its last. Plans are in the works to arm others in the fleet, according to Brig. Gen. Gary Thomas, the assistant deputy commandant for aviation.
He said that after the Shadow, the Corps will look to arm its Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System, or RQ-21A STUAS.
RQ-21A STUAS will be significantly smaller than the Shadow. While the Shadow weighs up to 460 pounds and has a combat radius of about 1,554 miles, RQ-21A STUAS will weigh just 150 pounds and have a combat radius of about 56 miles.
Staff writer Kate Brannen contributed to this report.