The upgraded RQ-7 could play a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. Marine Corps could potentially begin fielding newly upgraded RQ-7 Shadow systems as early as next year, according to experts. The new version of the combat-proven aircraft is fully digitized, improves interoperability, can be teamed with manned aircraft and provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to a broader range of warfighters, including manned aircraft crews. The upgraded system is intended to serve as an interim capability until the Marine Corps can field a larger, more capable unmanned aircraft.
The Shadow unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has flown more than 800,000 flight hours with more than 90 percent of those during combat. Both the Marines and the Army use the system. The Army is the lead service, integrating Marine Corps requirements with its own.
Shadow is being modernized with an array of upgraded capabilities, including a Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL); a universal ground control station capable of controlling multiple systems, including Gray Eagle and Shadow; and a Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). It also is being given a longer wingspan to increase time on station from six hours to 10 and more capable engines. Additionally, the military seeks to weaponize the system.
The Marines already have pulled the Shadow from Afghanistan, but the modernized system could play a significant role in the future. “As we look toward the Asia-Pacific region, we need more capable solutions that will allow us to feed data to the warfighter,” says Maj. Nicholas Neimer, USMC, the Marine Corps tactical unmanned aerial system coordinator. “Everything we do as far as improvements is to deliver real-time data to the warfighter and provide knowledge at the point of action.”