U.S. Army Version of Predator UAV Rushed Into Service
Two General Atomics Sky Warrior UAVs have been operating in Iraq since late April, well ahead of the drone’s formal system design and development (SDD) schedule. The Sky Warrior, a new version of the Predator-A, won the U.S. Army’s extended-range/multipurpose (ER/MP) competition. The substantial changes include a Thielert heavy-fuel engine, an autoland system and an improved, more mobile ground station. The ER/MP program is controversial in the Pentagon, and especially within the U.S. Air Force, since the Army has stated a requirement for no fewer than 45 systems of 12 aircraft each and it intends to operate them as high as 30,000 feet using enlisted personnel as non-rated remote pilots. The two aircraft now in Iraq are “Block 0” versions that General Atomics said were produced quickly to meet urgent operational needs. A further five will be deployed before year-end. Previously, the Army bought 16 smaller I-Gnat ER UAVs from General Atomics for service in Iraq staring in 2004. General Atomics is producing 17 Sky Warrior Block 1 aircraft for the SDD phase of the ER/MP, and is expecting the limited rate initial production decision to be made as early as this summer.