The US Army has put out a call to the defense industry for suggestions on integrating synthetic aperture radar/moving target indicator payload capabilities into its MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system. This request could potentially culminate in a competitive evaluation event, commonly referred to as a “fly-off”, as early as later this year or in 2024.
In an announcement made on Thursday, the Army stated that the MQ-1C Gray Eagle utilizes a variety of sensor payloads, including electro-optic/infrared sensors among others. As the requirements for these payloads are in the process of being updated, the Army is looking to assess the industry’s capacity to supply synthetic aperture radar, along with ground moving target indicator and dismount moving target indicator payloads, compatible with the MQ-1C system.
The Army is hoping for industry responses by July 14, and plans to leverage these responses for a potential “sensor fly-off” event. This would provide an opportunity to confirm industry-stated capabilities, maturity of sensor technology, and potential risks associated with integration.
The Army’s call for inputs specifies a technology readiness and manufacturing readiness level of 7. This indicates that the industry should be capable of demonstrating prototypes in a relevant environment and manufacture these systems in conditions that closely resemble the production environment.
Despite the request, the Army has not sought additional funding for further procurement of Gray Eagle drones in its 2024 fiscal year budget. This is due to having met its acquisition goal of 204 aircraft in 2019. However, in recent years, Congress has allocated extra funding for the program in the National Defense Authorization Act, enabling procurement of more aircraft for the Army National Guard.
A provision in the draft mark-up of the fiscal year 2024 defense authorization bill from the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee urges the Army secretary to provide a report by February 1, 2024. This report should elaborate on the service’s plans for incorporating the MQ-1C into the Guard.
The draft legislation indicates that the report should detail the current state of requirements for assimilating the aircraft into the Guard. It should address potential roles, missions, and necessary support infrastructure for such integration, along with estimated costs and timelines for both current and future integration processes.