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US Army Field Tests Latest RQ–7B Shadow Drone

The Block III system has a more capable payload sensor, improved engine, weatherization package, and an upgraded avionics package.

The US Army has wrapped up its operational testing of the RQ–7B Shadow Block III system, the latest in the Shadow series of the tactical unmanned aerial system (TUAS).

The testing included 94 missions and over 400 flight hours under realistic battlefield conditions, the US army said in a statement.

A team of analysts will now provide relevant inputs from the tests to the army evaluators to assess the capability of the Block III system.

“The data collected during the test will support an independent evaluation by the United States Army Evaluation Center,” said  Dr. Allison Hedrick, Aviation Test Directorate’s Lead Operations Research Systems Analyst.

The Block III improves upon the army’s RQ–7B ShadowV2 model with a more capable payload sensor, improved engine, weatherization package, and an upgraded avionics package which includes Voice over Internet Protocol Communications and upgraded Levels of Interoperability functionality.

The upgrade in the latter two functionalities will increase the synergy levels between the Shadow and attack helicopters, the US Army said.

The manufacturer of the aircraft, Textron Systems, had last year introduced these upgrades to the present model.

High Noise Signature

The army has used RQ–7B Shadow for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in its various missions in Iraq and Afghanistan but recently the aircraft has come under criticism for its high noise signature.

Block III tries to address this problem by replacing the current engine with a new water-cooled one.

It also replaced the current POP-300 EO/IR payload with a larger L3Harris manufactured MX-10D multi-sensor, multi-spectral imaging, and targeting system, which will enhance its image collection capability.

The upgrade will allow Shadow “to operate in two inches of rain per hour—a fourfold increase from its previous capability,” general manager for Textron Systems David Phillips told aviation-focused news outlet AINonline.

Notwithstanding the expected upgrades to the UAS, the US Army is still actively looking to replace the Shadow through a program named the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System.

Four military drones currently are vying to replace Shadow: Textron’s catapult-launched Aerosonde HQ; the V-Bat vertical takeoff UAS offered by Martin UAV and Northrop Grumman; the Arcturus JUMP-20 UAV; and the FVR-90 from L-3 Harris.

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