WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 3, 2010) -- Army unmanned aircraft systems officials said success was so great with the integration and testing of the Hellfire missile aboard the Grey Eagle UAS that the Army would begin deployment of four weaponized systems to Afghanistan in the fall.
In a Pentagon bloggers roundtable Aug. 25, Col. Greg Gonzalez, program manager for Army UAS said in recent user tests at the National Training Center, Soldiers had fired eight missiles with eight hits.
Of the eight, six aimed by the on-board laser designator were fired directly from the Grey Eagle platform resulting in six hits. The remaining two test fires were Hellfires launched from AH-64 Apaches which were also direct hits.
"Prior to that we had also tested the Hellfire integration at China Lake back in the fall of 2009," he said. "At that time, we had nine out of 10 hits and the tenth one that we did miss was an extremely difficult shot of a target moving directly below the aircraft, moving in a parallel... a perpendicular shot."
Tim Owings, deputy program manager for Army UAS said the Army had been testing sense-and-avoid capabilities of its UAS, such as software variants, new capabilities, training operators, but until recently the service hadn't been able to fly at night in national airspace per Federal Aviation Administration restrictions.
Those restrictions have since been lifted and will help resolve the problem that the majority of flight hours that all services are flying today are in theater, operating with impunity. Once war efforts die down and most of the assets are returned to the U.S., training will still be needed said Gonzalez.
Addressing the future of UAS, Col. Robert Sova, capability manager for UAS, said the role of the systems in war has exceeded a million hours and that the "work horse" of the UAS reconnaissance inventory, the Shadow, had exceeded 500,000 hours of flight time alone. He added the Army continues to see an increase in flying hours.
He said primary roles will still be surveillance, security, command and control, and communications relay. He also said he doesn't see an expansion of attack roles for the present other than Grey Eagle but didn't close the door on the feasibility of using smaller, lighter weapon systems in the future along with studying the possibility of cargo UAS.