This article first appeared at AviationWeek.com.
The U.S. Marine Corps is drafting a wish list of capabilities associated with two future unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
The first is notionally called the Group 4 UAS, the first of its kind as the Marine Corps shifts from its old "tiered" system of classifying into new groups, according to Maj. Thomas Heffern, of the service's UAS Capabilities Office. He spoke Feb. 3 at the AUVSI's annual Program Review conference in Washington.
Group 4 would likely be the only one of its kind solely procured by the amphibious-assault-oriented service, and thereby optimized for its future mission needs. The trade space is wide as the Marines examine their options. The system's mission isn't yet defined, but it is possible it could pick up some electronic warfare, electronic surveillance and - possibly - electronic attack missions after the retirement of the EA-6B, Heffern says.
Endurance is desired at between 14-30 hours, with a notional radius of 350-450 nautical miles. This system might be weaponized to reduce the time to engage targets, and would need to haul at least 1,500 pounds of payload. The Marines place an emphasis on developing a UAS that emit less noise at operating altitude to help hide their operations.
One major question ahead as the Marines define the Group 4 UAS is whether it will conduct vertical takeoff and landing or require short, austere runways for operation, Heffern says.
The Corps is also exploring a requirement for a future cargo lift system. The Office of Naval Research and other military labs have released a myriad of requests for information on this capability, but Heffern says various options are on the table. Notionally, this system would be shipboard capable, haul from 1,000-6,000 pounds, travel up to 250 knots and execute a range of 300 nautical miles. The speed requirement is prompting the Corps to examine whether a tiltrotor is its only option for this future cargo lift system.
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