Unmanned Systems

Army solidifies tech improvements for Gray Eagle

The Army is completing technical improvements to its Gray Eagle drone with some long-term “fixes” to its communications systems that address issues identified in recent years, service officials said.

This initiative is being pursued through an $80 million contract award to General Atomics to continue logistics services for the aircraft.

The drone, which first deployed in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division in 2009, is the Army’s baseline drone program. It now has over 325,000 flight hours across the fleet. The service has spent more than $400 million for the drone in the last two months.

The drone reaches 29,000-ft. altitudes, has an endurance of 25 hours, and hits speeds up to 167 knots. Payloads top out at 1,075ounds, and include everything from electro-optical/infrared sensors with laser designation and synthetic aperture radar to communications relays and four Hellfire missiles. It also possesses automatic takeoff and landing capabilities.

Modeled after the retired and highly-successful Air Force Predator, the Gray Eagle has encountered some technical problems during its development. Some of these complications created the need for the Army to make improvements with the Gray Eagle’s communication systems.

“The Army continues to strengthen and improve its fleet of Gray Eagle UAS as part of a broader effort to enhance some of the technical limitations the emerging platform has experienced in recent years,” an Army official told Defense Systems.

Army officials emphasized that the challenges have been addressed, and that this recent contract will help solidify progress made improving the drone.  Army officials say the Gray Eagle is a much improved aircraft with increased reliability and system redundancies.

Inside Defense reported that Congress approved a Department of Defense $27.3 million reallocation request to replace several unmanned aircraft systems destroyed during Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign to defeat ISIS.

To remedy some of these issues, General Atomics has developed the MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range (ER), which has started flight testing. Upgrades include flight times up to 40 hours and an increased payload capacity. It will support attack, electronic warfare, intelligence and reconnaissance missions. Four aircraft will be delivered in 2017, with fifteen additional drones arriving in 2018.

Work will be performed in Poway, California and in Afghanistan. The project should wrap up by Dec. 2017. The Army obligated over $13 million at the time of the award. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

About the Author

Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.

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