This article first appeared in Aviation Week's Ares Weblog.
Given Defense Secretary Robert Gates' order to the service branches to hurry up and get more unmanned aerial vehicles out to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, theres a scramble afoot to develop and deploy next-generation UAVs as quickly as possible.
And the $160 billion Future Combat Systems program is right in the middle of that scramble. The Honeywell Defense and Space Electronic Systems' Class 1 block 0 UAV is currently being evaluated by the Army Evaluation Task Force at Ft. Bliss, Texas, and has been going through an accelerated testing program to try and get it out in the field as soon as possible. While not slated for FCS Spinout 1 in 2011, the UAV is being pushed though as quickly as possible. FCS spokesman Paul Mehney says that based on feedback that they've been getting from the field during testing there is a need for some of the capabilities that the Class 1 UAV block 0 will provide, such as the "hover and stare," which uses gimbaled adjustable sensors that allow soldiers to keep the vehicle in stationary hover, as well as incorporating early versions of the Joint Tactical Radio System.
But that's not the only system being tested. The Class IV UAV (Northrop Grumman's MQ-8B Fire Scout) is also on schedule, and is expected to be fielded in the 2014 time frame. The Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) that took place back in April proved out some sensor technology for Class IV UAV's according to FCS' Mehney.
According to specifications provided by Northrop Grumman, the Fire Scout, as currently stands, comes equipped with:
Northrop Grumman's Airborne Surveillance and Target Acquisition Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS) sensor. Additional sensors include a Tactical Synthetic Aperture Radar (TSAR/MTI), a communications relay package, a training sensor, Mine, Chemical and Radiological detection and a RF emissions locator. The highly reliable air vehicle is based on a COTS airframe and propulsion system.