JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — In support of the U. S. Army’s modernization efforts, Soldiers of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, have been operating and assessing the Aerosonde Hybrid Quad as part of a Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems capabilities demonstration. The brigade conducted training exercises with the Aerosonde HQ for six months to provide feedback on its force integration to help the Army determine what is needed to eventually replace the RQ-7 Shadow drone.
The “Ghost Brigade” joins four other Army units that are testing non-developmental drones as part of the Army's efforts to maintain its competitive edge.
Unit leaders view this assessment as an essential responsibility for the brigade combat team, according to 1-2 SBCT Commander Col. Jared Bordwell.
“We have an opportunity here to help inform Army modernization and shape the future capabilities of BCT enablers,” Bordwell said. “We’re really leaning forward on it.”
The Aerosonde HQ, developed by Textron Systems, boasts some increased capabilities and advantages over the Shadow, which has been in service in brigade combat teams for more than a decade.
“The biggest thing this is going to provide the Army is flexibility,” said Carlos Colon, chief Aerosonde test pilot. “The Aerosonde system does not require the same amount of infrastructure as the Shadow, but maintains the same capability of a unit four times its size.”
The RQ-7 Shadow weighs 467 pounds, requires a runway launcher for takeoff and an arresting wire for landing. It operates at a max height of 16,000 feet for a span of nine hours at a range of 78 miles. In comparison, the Aerosonde Hybrid Quad weighs 105 pounds, is runway independent and can operate at a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet for a span of eight hours at a range of 86 miles.
The Aerosonde HQ can be deployed in virtually any environment by taking off and touching down vertically.
“The Aerosonde has a very small operational footprint as well so you can have the space it takes to deploy three Shadow aircraft, and with the same amount of people, you can fly six times the amount of aircraft,” Colon added.
Along with the vertical take-off and landing capability of the Aerosonde, a major attribute is the difference in noise level compared to the RQ-7 Shadow.
“The Aerosonde is at least twice as quiet as the Shadow, which is really important because, with the Shadow, when it’s 4,000, 6,000 feet in the air, you can hear it and it’s not entirely tactical,” said Sgt. Michael Edman, 1-2 SBCT’s unmanned aerial system platoon quality control noncommissioned officer in charge. He added that the new UAS requires less time to set-up, meaning more flight hours to keep eyes on Soldiers.
The Army is using what is known as “Soldier Touch Points” as a means to help evaluate the different drones. STPs allow Soldiers to touch (evaluate, examine, assess, try) new or modified equipment much earlier and more frequently prior to significant program investment. This allows for more in-depth analysis of what is working not only for the Army on a strategic level, but for the Soldiers using the equipment. This risk management saves the Army time and money, while identifying exactly what Soldiers on the ground need to be successful.
“Instead of guessing at what the user wants, the Army is getting that first-hand information and pushing that into the future,” said Colon. “So not only will they be using the latest and greatest, but it will actually have a purpose in the Army.”
“Our Soldiers are in the field taking a hard look at how this platform performs in tactical environments, so we can get those real-world assessments up to decision-makers, with the goal of increasing the capabilities at the brigade level,” Bordwell said. “It’s about helping make our Army unbeatable, now and in the future.”
Through November, 1-2 SBCT will continue its FTUAS assessment following their scheduled rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.