The success of the armed Predator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has led to discussions of arming some of the Army’s systems, but that presents a challenge, a program official said.

The real issue when considering lethality is that “the “weight of current munitions really is an endurance killer even on the large platforms,” said Timothy Owings, deputy project manager unmanned aircraft systems within Program Executive Office-Aviation. “When you carry Hellfires on Gray Eagle (UAS) you lose significant endurance.” 

At least so far, he said at a recent media roundtable, tactical commanders believe endurance is key, thus the UAS is “the one asset they’ve got with persistence so they want to keep it flying.”

“One of the things we’re thinking is going to have to happen is (to have) lighter more capable munitions,” Owings said. The UAS Office is going to put weapons on the AAI Corp. [TXT] Shadow, now that the Marines have received approval to do so. The weapon itself has yet to be selected.

Another program is also looking at putting weapons on UAS, though the Army UAS office doesn’t manage it. Another program, the Close Combat Weapon System Project Office is not managed by the Army UAS Office. It’s looking at what Owings called “loitering munitions, or smart UAS embedded with warheads.

To achieve the balance between lethality and endurance, the question is: “how much do you spend to protect an asset that you want to remain somewhat attritable in the commanders’ calculus,” Owings said. For example, it is unlikely the systems can be made so they are not vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems, though it is possible they can be made not vulnerable to some jamming systems and other things like that.