The Army has released a Request for Information looking to expand the data link capabilities of its Predator unmanned aircraft variant – the MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
The RFI seeks to provide “an outline for the potential revamp of Army’s Gray Eagle UAS data link equipment.” This spring, tests of manned-unmanned teaming using Apache helicopters and Gray Eagles showed the limitations of the Gray Eagle’s Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL), Breaking Defense reported. The TCDL communicates only over the Ku-band radio frequency, while other Army drones use other frequencies. Army officials said at the time they were planning a solicitation for a data link that can operate on multiple bands.
“The Army is interested in acquiring an overall system architect, and/or vendors that can provide subcomponents to include modems, antennas, front-end components, etc. Interested companies who believe they are capable of providing all or part of the information requested are invited to respond,” the RFI stated.
The Pentagon recently announced that it wants to increase the numberof unmanned aircraft sorties, or combat air patrols – one consisting of usually four aircraft and enable the force to rotate aircraft into the sky for constant 24/7 monitoring of a particular area – by 50 percent by 2019. Since the Air Force’s personnel – which conduct the majority of global CAPs – are currently strained and pushed to their maximum limit, the CAP increases will rely on other branches such as the Army and Special Operations Command components as well as contractors.
While the Air Force and covert elements including the CIA have mostly been associated with the sorties flown in high-conflict areas, other commands have also contributed. Notably, the Army has operated its MQ-1C Gray Eagle, in Iraq. Recently one of these aircrafts was reported to have crashed in the Iraqi desert due to “technical complications caused by a loss of communications.”
The Army will fly as many as 16 sorties a day by 2019 – as opposed to the 60 the Air Force will continue to fly – with the Army flying half that by 2017.
The response date for the Army’s RFI is Oct 16, 2015.