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Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle settles in, branches out to Special Operators

Colonel Tim Baxter, the U.S. Army’s Program Manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (PM UAS) and his deputy, Mr. Rich Kretzschmar, briefed reporters on their organization’s programs and systems at this week’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition. Here’s what we learned of note with respect to the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, the Army’s Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) program of record.

·        PM UAS continues to acquire MQ-1C units, and has now purchased 118 of 152 planned – some 80%.

·        The MQ-1C continues to perform well in Afghanistan in Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) configurations with two Gray Eagle Companies on nine-month rotations. 

·        Current program efforts focus on reliability improvements, migration towards a universal ground control system, and plans for MQ-1C Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation (FOT&E), which will begin in late 2015.

·        PM UAS is working to mitigate the MQ-1C’s reliance on the original Theilert engine, as this company, long in bankruptcy, was recently sold to a Chinese concern. An alternative Lycoming engine, which provides better reliability and performance as well as twice the operational lifespan, has been demonstrated in operational aircraft and engine testing /evaluation is ongoing.  PM UAS is making plans for the new engine’s potential incorporation within the MQ-1C fleet, while working with Gray Eagle contractor General Atomics (which now owns the old engine’s rights) to ensure supportability of the existing operational engines and stockpiled spares.

·        The MQ-1C Project Office is working with the Army Special Operations community to equip the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) with MQ-1C aircraft with SOF equipment, including a SOF-unique High Definition (HD) sensor.  Additional focus is on greatly decreasing the time required (from 24 to 4 hours) to get the Gray Eagle flying from the moment it is delivered.  This SOF fielding is to be completed within the next twelve months.

·          General Atomics has developed internally an Improved Gray Eagle platform that offers, among other capabilities, significantly improved endurance.  The company just announced that a flight test had demonstrated a 25% increase in endurance from 36 to 45 hours and that a 50-hour flight was at hand.  While there has been some Army contemplation of a Gray Eagle block upgrade, system requirements and acquisition strategy have yet to be determined

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