The MQ-1C Grey Eagle UAV still isn't living up to its original expectations, but that's all right, the Army says.
The service made clear in an official story this week that its soldiers and commanders are just glad to have the armed UAVs to play with in Afghanistan, even if their equipment fails more often than it's supposed to -- a significant concession in messaging straight from Big Army:
While the reliability rate of the unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, is not where it could be, Army leaders have said for now the service is okay with that because the UAS doing more in terms of capability than what it was originally designed to do.The story goes on to describe how this upgraded version of the Predator debuted with an electro-optical/infrared sensor, then added the ability to carry weapons and then the "Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator as well as air-data relay capability."
The Grey Eagle UAS is part of a system that includes ground control stations and ground equipment. The system provides reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting and acquisition capabilities for commanders. The aircraft can carry multiple sensors and is also weaponized with the Hellfire missile.
"It's done so well, we keep adding stuff to it," Crosby said. "We're adding sensors, we're updating the engine."
With the Grey Eagle, the Army has made a conscious decision to focus on capability for now, Crosby said, and will focus later on reliability. So far, reliability problems have been attributed mostly to software issues that arise with the addition of new sensors to the Grey Eagle, Crosby said. Those problems change as new sensors are added. However, Crosby said, when those software problems are fixed, they don't reappear.
In other words, the Army wants to keep flying and upgrading its Grey Eagles as it goes, on the assumption that it can improve its times between failures on the fly as it continues to enjoy having its own green UAVs. There's long been a sense among Army people that it just can't have nice things -- the Air Force butts in and swipes the new aviation platforms it wants. So if the Army were to pause its own UAV ops for even a moment, the blue falcon might swoop down.
Not this time, the brass seems to be saying. Despite the eyebrows raised in Washington over the Army pursuing its own version of an Air Force UAV -- at a time when the brass of all the services talks about the importance of streamlining and commonality -- the Army appears to remain defiant about the Grey Eagle. Here's how its official story characterized the present state of the program and its larger ambitions:
In Afghanistan now, the Army has two "quick reaction capability," or QRCs, platoon-sized aviation elements that are each equipped with four Grey Eagles ... Also in Afghanistan now is the first full-sized Grey Eagle unit, F-227, which is a company-sized unit with three platoons of four aircraft each. Fox 227 entered Afghanistan in April 2012 and has done well there.This may not come to pass until after the end of combat in Afghanistan, but in the meantime, it sounds like the skies overhead are going to get even more crowded as the Army continues its enthusiasm for its own UAVs.
The F-227 unit has been flying now for about two months and "the unit has matured over the last 45 days or so," said Col. Timothy Baxter, project manager, unmanned aircraft systems. Baxter said the unit flies three to four "strings" per day, gaining about 70-90 flying hours for the systems during each day of flying.
The Grey Eagles in theater now have flown, together, about 24,000 combat hours. Baxter said availability for the Grey Eagle is at about 80 percent now, which is what was expected, though the Army's objective for the aircraft is 90 percent. In January 2013, the Army expects to field another unit, F-1, with 12 aircraft, a unit similar to F-227 ... The Army hopes to eventually field a company-sized Grey Eagle unit to every division, officials said.