By Ann Roosevelt

The Army’s extended range-multi-purpose MQ-1C Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in theater in the Quick Reaction Capability 1 (QRC 1) now carry weapons, an Army aviation official said.

“We did just complete weaponization on QRC 1 in Iraq,” Tim Owings, deputy project manager UASs, said at the Association of the United States Army Aviation Symposium and Exhibition last week.

The MQ-1C Gray Eagle, produced General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is part of the Army’s response to combatant commanders continued call for improved real-time capability for long wide area reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, communications relay and attack missions.

The QRC 1 unit arrived in theater in mid-summer 2009, without weapons. This unit now has received the same Hellfire missile weapons suite that was mounted initially on QRC 2- -the second unit deployed (Defense Daily, Nov. 2, 2009).

“We have now flown flights in Iraq with the full four weapons suite,” he said. The unit has to go through a series of certifications in Iraq on a firing range before they are allowed to go live with the systems, “even though we’ve already tested the systems,” he added.

“We will continue to keep a strong weapons posture in that class,” Owings said.

In the tactical class, for maneuver commanders, weaponizing the RQ-1B Shadow is a different proposition, he said.

“The Marines believe they could have anywhere from 20-to-30-40 engagements a month were they to have a weaponized capability on Shadow,” Owings said. “For that reason we have worked cooperatively with them to that.”

However, there are also some treaty issues to work through with the State Department with putting weapons on the AAI Corp. [TXT]-produced Shadow. The Marines are leading this effort.

“We’re basically in a holding pattern on weaponization with regard to Shadow,” he said.

Treaty issues revolve around the issue that the Shadow launches from a rail, and needs to be differentiated from cruise missiles which also can be rail-launched.

The Army also has weapons on the Hunter and Warrior Alpha UAVs.

Owings said there have been “successful” engagements with Warrior Alphas using their weapons in the past couple of months, though he couldn’t say more about the “where or what” of the engagements.

Col. Robert Sova, Army Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Manager for UAS, said a lot of studies have been done on weaponizing UAS.

“Just like with our manned scout aircraft, the primary mission of that platform is not the attack role, attack is one mission set,” Sova said. “However, we do put weapons on our scout aircraft because either survival of the crew that’s out there or a given situation where they may need to employ that weapon.”

Sova has been discussing UAS armament with special operations forces. There is the potential to put more armaments not only on Gray Eagle, but also to potentially arm some of the smaller systems because of the mission sets and how SOF operates.

It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, and the question, is there a need to arm a specific UAV, Sova said, something they carefully weigh, because “the minute you put armament on one of these systems, the greater capability of persistence it gives you of how long it can stay in the air starts coming down.”