Gray Eagle unit will be assigned to each of the Army's 10 active-duty divisions
The Army is planning to significantly expand its use of the medium-altitude, long-endurance Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft by establishing a unit to operate them for each of its 10 active duty divisions and several other units to fly them for special operations, aerial exploitation forces and its national training center, the service said recently.
Ordinarily a division would get a dozen Gray Eagles, but since the service's current plan calls for the purchase of only 152 of the aircraft, there aren't enough to meet that requirement. Some divisions might get only nine aircraft, but if they are deployed overseas they would receive the full complement of 12, Army aviation officials said.
"The plan is, when a Gray Eagle company deploys, like we have downrange now with F-227 (Aviation), they would deploy with a full complement of three platoons of four aircraft, or 12 aircraft total," said COL Timothy Baxter, project manager for Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems during a February 4 media briefing.
The additional aircraft would come from other units that are not deploying.
U.S. Army Forces Command "would task organize from other Gray Eagle companies to make sure when they are deployed in harm's way, they would have a full 12," said Jeff Crabb, deputy product manager for Army Medium Altitude Endurance UAS. "That's the current strategy."
So far the Army has contracted with Poway, Calif.-based General Atomics, which manufactures the Gray Eagle, for 103 of the aircraft.
The Army has one Gray Eagle company--Company F, 227th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), 1st Cavalry Division--already deployed. While deployed in Afghanistan, the Fort Hood, Texas-based company is assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Company F, 227th CAB, is equipped now with 12 aircraft, and will retain all 12 when it returns home sometime within the next two months. The 1st Cavalry Division also has an additional company of 12 Gray Eagle aircraft, Company E, 227th Combat Aviation Brigade.
That company will be replaced in the next 90 days by Company F, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., which also has 12 Gray Eagles. The unit already has an advance party already in theater.
Also in Afghanistan now are two "quick reaction capability" (QRC) units, each with four Gray Eagle aircraft. Those two QRC units have been deployed since 2009. The first was deployed initially to Operation Iraqi Freedom and stayed though until the end of Operation New Dawn before moving on to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The second QRC has always been in Afghanistan.
The Army also is fielding another company to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., and by October, another to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The 160th may end up with two companies of 12 aircraft each.
Baxter said it's been a "busy year" for the Gray Eagle program, which has culminated with the director of operational testing and evaluation publishing a "beyond low rate initial production" (LRIP) report for Gray Eagle IOT&E that was conducted in July and August 2012.
The report "deemed us effective, operationally suitable, and meeting our survivability and force protection key performance parameters on the program," Baxter said.
A number of recommendations came out of the Beyond LRIP report, he said. They involve maturing tactics, techniques and procedures on the Gray Eagle program, improving training on the program, improving doctrine across the Army on the program with respect to Gray Eagle and all UAS, and also maturing the manned/unmanned teaming capabilities.