CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas -- The U.S. Army has purchased thousands of unmanned aircraft systems in the last 15 years, coinciding with ongoing combat operations.

The initial push to field these systems required extensive original equipment manufacturer sustainment support. In recent years, UAS Program Manager's Office has worked to integrate UAS into the standard Army sustainment system by equipping government civilians and Soldiers with training and support to maintain these aircraft with less assistance from the OEMs.

The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is integral to this effort, said Larry Hoffman, AMRDEC reconnaissance lead. Increasing maintenance and repairs performed by Soldiers and Army civilians has made a significant impact on integrating UAS into the Army sustainment system.

"Traditionally when UAS components were damaged during operations, they were either replaced outright, costing anywhere from a few dollars to over $100,000, or the representatives of the OEM would perform repairs only familiar to the OEM," said Hoffman. "Now, using OEM input and Army logistics and engineering assistance, the Soldiers have begun to perform repairs on UAS. When damage to a UAS is identified, the on-site Aviation and Missile Command Logistics Assistance Representative works with the Soldiers and on-site OEM representative to identify possible repair options."

"If soldier repair appears to be an option, the LAR will submit a Maintenance Engineering Call via the online AMRDEC Engineering Support System," Hoffman said. "The on-site or remote AMRDEC Maintenance Division Liaison Engineer coordinates the MEC with other Aviation Engineering Directorate and Program Manager UAS engineers at Redstone. If soldier repair is approved, disposition to the unit is provided via the ESS MEC system. Additionally, the repair is likely to be added to the UAS technical manual for Army use."

AMRDEC provided the first approved Shadow composite wing repair authorized by MEC July 12. Technicians at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., discovered delamination damage on the right wing in an area non-repairable by the technical manual.

"The AMCOM LAR submitted a repair request as the unit liaison. In a collaborative effort with AMRDEC, the request was approved," said Bart McPeak, liaison engineer at JBLM. "The non-standard repair contributed to the Shadow system readiness and avoided the approximate $46,000 component replacement costs."

In addition, the Tactical UAS Product Manager and AMRDEC are proactively developing other repairs for field and depot use. Repair identification is based on analysis of field damage data and by examining damaged components identified during Reset inspections. This Shadow Reset Repair Development effort, being lead within the AMRDEC by AED, also involves the Center's Weapons Development and Integration Directorate and the Engineering Directorate.

The collaborative effort is already producing new repair procedures to be used in the field, and will soon produce advance composite repair procedures for field and depot use. With the additional repair procedures identified during the project, the cost of sustaining the Shadow UAS should be reduced and parts availability improved.

Development of these Army repairs will make organic depot maintenance and contracted maintenance and overhaul possible in the future, further reducing cost of operations and availability of spare UAS components.

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The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.