The U.S. Army will be fielding more Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use at the division and corps level once the units roll off the line at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The Army recently awarded the company a $133 million contract for 19 Gray Eagles that’s a second purchase on a full-rate production contract.
Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Gray Eagle is a long-endurance UAV designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA); communication relay; and attack capabilities. The 27-1/2-foot long aircraft has a 56-foot wingspan, a maximum altitude of 29,000 feet, and a 3,600-pound gross takeoff weight.
“Doing surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance are Gray Eagle’s main focuses,” says Mike Cardenas, deputy director for the Army Programs Office at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. “It also has two radios on-board for the purpose of acting as a communications relay to talk with soldiers in the field in real time. In addition, Gray Eagle has four hard points, two on the outside of the wings for 250-pound intel-based payloads and two on the inside part of the wings that can carry 500-pound Hellfire missiles.”
When used in a RTSA configuration, Gray Eagle’s time on station for a location 300 kilometers from its launch point is about 20 hours, Cardenas says.
“If it’s loaded up with Hellfires and other payloads, at 300 klicks it is closer to 13 to 15 hours on station at 10,000 feet,” he observes.
Gray Eagle comes with two line-of-sight antennas, but the aircraft is being supplied to the Army with a satellite antenna that can be mounted to give the aircraft over-the-horizon capability. Gray Eagle also has a fully automated takeoff and landing system.
Cardenas points out that Gray Eagle is meant to be more of a tactical asset for division commanders, but also can be used as a strategic asset.
The Army’s Gray Eagle can be launched, controlled, and recovered at the location where’s it’s operational, Cardenas notes, compared with a U.S. Air Force UAV that might be launched and then have control of the unit given over to someone flying the aircraft via SATCOM (satellite communications).
“A unique element to the Gray Eagle is that it has manned-unmanned teaming, which is used between UAVs and Apache helicopters,” Cardenas says. “Once the Gray Eagle is up, an Apache can take control of the aircraft [and] its payload and Hellfire missiles in order to work together to target a certain location.”
Cardenas says manned-unmanned teaming was part of the operational testing criteria General Atomics Aeronautical Systems carried out in the summer of 2012.
“Shots were fired in teaming with an Apache during the testing,” he notes, “and we had very good success with it.”
Cardenas points out that for all the unmanned aircraft systems that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems makes, manned-unmanned teaming is unique to the Gray Eagle.
“Thus far we have not incorporated it into other assets,” he says, “although it could be done, depending on the system and the customer’s needs.”
Deliveries on the second Gray Eagle purchase contract will be made through September 2017.
About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s the author of the historical mystery, Full Moon; the nonfiction work, Ice Hockey in the Desert; and his newest historical mystery, Asylum Lane, all available at www.amazon.com.