HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Project Manager Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ Soldier Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Office is developing a new capability for Army warfighters at the tactical edge of the battlefield.
In collaboration with the Army’s Maneuver Battle Lab and Army Test and Evaluation Command, the Soldier Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Office conducted the first prototype testing of Tranche 2 short range reconnaissance small unmanned aircraft system, or sUAS, prototypes at Fort Benning, Georgia, on January 9-12, 2023.
The event tested each vendors’ system against Army short range reconnaissance, or SRR, requirements derived from the capabilities production document. Each vendor had one day to demonstrate day and night flight capabilities against set flight cards. These tests included based flight control, operational range, day and nighttime obstacle avoidance, and advanced autonomy.
The Tranche 2 rapid prototyping vendors are Teal Drones, which is developing the Golden Eagle MK2 in Salt Lake City, Utah; Vantage Robotics, developing the Swift in San Leandro, California; and Skydio developing the R47 in Redwood City, California.
The program started with 33 vendors submitting requests for prototype proposals. Of that group, 10 vendors were selected to participate in a demonstration at Fort Benning. Following successful flights and technical briefings, the Soldier Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Office selected three vendors to move forward throughout rapid prototyping development. After the awards, the office conducted two design reviews with each vendor to prepare them for the five upcoming testing events.
The SRR Program continues to follow a middle tier of acquisition pathway utilizing other transaction agreements to execute on an accelerated schedule. sUAS Tranche 2 will be the next generation SRR system, improving on the Tranche 1 capabilities by achieving the full threshold and objective requirements as derived from the Army’s capabilities production document.
The Tranche 1 SRR system, also known as the RQ-28A, provides maneuver platoons with an organic capability to conduct beyond the line-of-sight operations. The RQ-28A is a small, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that Soldiers at the tactical level can use to conduct real time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition operations past the next terrain feature.
The RQ-28A is the Army’s first program of record quadcopter and Project Manager Unmanned Aircraft Systems is currently fielding systems to operational units. It has already surpassed its planned minimum viable capability by fulfilling most of the Army’s requirements since fielding began in FY22. The Soldier Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Office will continue to field the RQ-28A systems across the Army during FY23.
Picking-up on where the RQ-28A left off, the first Tranche 2 testing event occurred at Fort Benning as a vendor-only alpha demonstration — to provide a proof of concept and validation for a new aircraft design, flight characteristics and enhanced system performance capabilities. The second vendor touch point — beta demonstrations — will take place later in FY23 followed by several Soldier touch points at the limited operational experiment in the fourth quarter of FY23.
The next generation Tranche 2 system will improve upon the RQ-28A by featuring enhanced autonomy, improved nighttime obstacle avoidance, a new ground control station, a modular open system approach, and using robotic autonomous command and control software. Tranche 2 systems are scheduled to begin replacing the current RQ-28A systems starting in FY26.
With these advancements directly in the hands of our Soldiers, Project Manager Unmanned Aircraft Systems continues to ensure the Army always holds the advantage and never engages in a fair fight by providing new capabilities to the warfighter now and into the future!