2-13th Aviation Regiment takes off into the future

By Cpt. Bradley Foreman, 111th Military Intelligence BrigadeMay 2, 2024

2-13th Aviation Regiment takes off into the future
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Cpt. Corbin Heard, commander of B Co, 2-13th Aviation Regiment, delivers remarks ahead of the RQ-28A’s inaugural flight at Fort Huachuca, Arizona May 1, 2024. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Jilian Mueller) VIEW ORIGINAL
2-13th Aviation Regiment takes off into the future
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The RQ-28A hovers over the audience during its inaugural flight at Fort Huachuca, Arizona May 1. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Jilian Mueller) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - In a ceremony celebrating the inaugural flight of the RQ-28A Small Unmanned Aerial System (SUAS), attendants ranged from Initial Entry Training Soldiers to the Battalion Commander to technicians that have been working on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) for decades.

“Today we gather to witness a significant milestone in the evolution of Army Aviation,” said Capt. Corbin Heard, commander of Bravo Company of the 2-13th Aviation Regiment. Heard oversees the Soldiers, Civilians, and contractors responsible for training the Army’s newest UAS operators. Until April, this took the form of the Army’s Tactical UAS (TUAS), the RQ-7 Shadow. Moving forward, students will be training on SUASs like the RQ-28A.

Heard said that the first flight ceremony marked “a pivotal moment that underscores our commitment to integrating cutting-edge technology into our operational and training paradigms.”

It is true that the system is cutting edge. From prototype to fielding, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, this craft only took less than three years to make its way to the 2-13th schoolhouse.

“This SUAS is not just a piece of equipment; it’s a testament to our adaptability and readiness in the face of evolving threats and challenges,” Heard said.

Lt. Col. Kent Monas, commander of the 2-13th, had no shortage of praise for his team in embracing the change.

“We are really proud of the Soldiers and our instructors, some of whom have been doing this for 40 years. They are embracing and quickly adapting to the change, because they are passionate about UAS,” Monas said.


In his speech to commemorate the inaugural flight of the RQ-28A at the 2-13th Aviation Regiment, Heard said that “its introduction to the schoolhouse here is not just about learning to operate a new system, but adapting our tactics, techniques and procedures to fully leverage this technology and enhancing our combat and training operations.”

The Army is undergoing a radical transformation from its decades’ long practice of meeting an unconventional threat in counterinsurgency to prepare for large-scale combat operations, or LSCO. To adapt to the new tactics, some equipment has to change as well.

The advent of the SUAS in the U.S. Army comes from lessons learned observing modern combat operations around the world, like those in Ukraine. “What we’re seeing is that a lot of SUASs are employed down at the tactical level,” Monas said.

One of the training tenets in the 2-13th is that every Soldier coming through understands the weight of the sacred trust between ground force commanders and Army Aviation. “What you just saw with that first flight is a part of that [sacred trust], because we are trying to get what the warfighter needs out there,” Monas said.

Although this is the first quadcopter program of record for the Army, modern warfare and the technology that accompanies it progresses every day. Gen. Randy George, Chief of Staff of the Army, understands this and thus espouses the idea of continuous transformation as one of the Army’s strategic goals. According to a recent Association of the United States Army article, George said that in order to meet the needs of a modern, evolving battlefield, “we must transform continuously and iteratively, and we must get better every day.”

What this means for Army Aviation, and particularly UAS operators, is that although the RQ-28A is the newest UAS, it will almost certainly not be the last. Monas said, “we anticipate that as new technology comes out, we will continue to field newer SUASs here at the schoolhouse.”

Keeping UAS operators and maintainers adaptable means training them on a variety of UASs. The Soldiers still train on larger TUASs on simulators until the new one is fielded, but in the meantime their focus is on SUASs. Monas said, “We are working to train our TUAS operators to be the subject matter experts in training and implementing SUAS for the ground force.”


There is a lot of uncertainty inherent in a system undergoing continuous transformation, and the Army has accounted for that at the highest levels. As a part of the new Army SUAS program, the Department of the Army Headquarters has left the decision on how to integrate TUAS operators and maintainers up to the unit commanders.

Brigade Combat Teams and Combat Aviation Brigades have billets for TUAS operators and maintainers, which have traditionally been housed in an RQ-7 Shadow platoon in a Military Intelligence Company (MICO). With the SUAS, which has a much shorter flight time and shorter range, but is also smaller and more maneuverable, the need for the UAS platoon, at least in the near-term, may be moot.

In the meantime, SUAS operators could be embedded within a ground forces platoon. The need for quick, maneuverable unmanned reconnaissance for an infantry platoon clearing a bunker or an engineer platoon clearing a breach is easy to imagine. They could also be used as trainers so that the ground forces could employ the SUAS themselves as they see fit for their mission set. Monas said that the Division Commander could also lend the personnel out for National Training Center rotations or operations like Atlantic Resolve.

“That’s part of what we’re designing our training around: to allow them the versatility so that when they come from the schoolhouse, they can be utilized in different capacities while still having the foundational aviation knowledge to quickly transition when the new system is fielded,” he said.

Using these UAS operators and maintainers in different capacities based on commander’s discretion is an intentional move by the Army to avoid a major force structure change in anticipation of the future TUAS’s eventual fielding.

“Senior leaders have indicated they want to retain the current structure that we have now and the capacity, looking towards the future of fielding this future TUAS… [TUAS operators and maintainers] can maybe be put back into those MICOs and re-form to field an entirely new TUAS that will be a brigade-level asset,” Monas said.

The new TUAS is currently in the acquisitions process with the Army’s UAS program manager. To meet the needs of a large-scale combat operations environment, where having dedicated runways from years of building will not be as likely as it was when the Army was focused on long-term counterinsurgency, one of the key characteristics of it is that it must be a craft capable of vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL. Otherwise, the system will have similar characteristics to those of the RQ-7 Shadow, albeit slightly larger.


Part of the reason for this transition is that Department of the Army Headquarters issued an order to cease flights of their former TUAS, the RQ-7 Shadow, by April 1st of this year. In anticipation of the Shadow’s divestment, the 2-13th hosted a final flight ceremony at the end of March to celebrate the program’s life.

“We had a nice ceremony. We had a lot of Department of the Army Civilians and soldiers who have spent their entire careers working on training and deploying that aircraft, and so it’s bittersweet to see it go away,” Monas said.

Whenever there is a major change like this, there are always people who have anxiety about being left behind or losing their jobs, especially because the Shadow has been around for decades. Monas said that these fears should be put at ease in this case, as UAS is a growth industry.

“There are many Department of the Army Civilians who have seen legacy systems come and go…and worked through those transitions.”

Those positions are not only safe but necessary, said Monas. “Their experience is absolutely critical to our ability to execute this divestment and fielding of new equipment, because they have seen it multiple times.” Monas credited the Department of the Army Civilians as the “secret weapon of our BN” that will make the transition smooth.

As a part of fielding new equipment, part of the process is always training the old team on it so they can transition into the new team. The 2-13th is currently undergoing these processes, called New Equipment Training and New Equipment Fielding.

“We train a cohort initially, and then that cohort become the trainers for the rest of our force here. Once the cadre is trained, we can begin training students,” Monas said.

The formal Program of Instruction involving the RQ-28A is currently slated to begin in June.


Monas feels very strongly that his unit, as well as Fort Huachuca and the Army Aviation community at large, are leading the charge for continuous transformation of delivering Aviation support to the warfighter in the way they need it. The 2-13th community, from the newest Soldier fresh out of basic training to the Civilians and contractors that have been working on UASs for 40 years, has rapidly adapted to and embraced this necessary change.

“It’s very important for our Army mission and for the defense of our country to stay on the cutting edge of that technology so that our brothers and sisters out on the ground closing with the enemy have overwhelming support from UAS and Army Aviation,” Monas said.