Warplanes: Obsolete, Replaced But Still in Demand


January 9, 2010: The U.S. Army is buying three more RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV units. One of these units (containing four UAVs and ground control and support gear) is going to the U.S. Marine Corps. This Shadow 200 is most widely used by the U.S. Army, where each Shadow 200 UAV platoon has 22 troops and operates four UAVs, plus the ground control equipment. Typically, each combat brigade has one Shadow UAV platoon. Each marine UAV squadron has 8-12 Shadow 200s, and some smaller (40 pound) ScanEagle UAVs. Two years ago, the marines replaced their two decade old Pioneer UAVs with the Shadow 200.

Each 350 pound Shadow 200 UAV costs $500,000, and can stay in the air 5.5 hours per sortie. A day camera and night vision camera is carried on each aircraft. Able to fly as high as 15,000 feet (or more), the Shadow can thus go into hostile territory and stay high enough (over 10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire. The Shadow UAVs can carry 56 pounds of equipment, is eleven feet long and has a wingspan of 12.75 feet. The Shadow has a range of about 50 kilometers. The army has had great success with the Shadow 200, which is what caught the attention of the marines.

The army has successfully tested a lightweight laser designator for the Shadow 200.   This enables the UAV to carry and fire a Hellfire missile, which it has done in tests. Technically, the Shadow should not be able to carry a Hellfire, as the UAV weighs 186 pounds empty (no fuel or sensors), and nearly 350 pounds when taking off with 80 pounds of fuel and up to a hundred pounds of sensors. By carrying less fuel (and staying in the air for about three hours, instead of six), the Shadow can carry a vidcam, laser designator and one Hellfire. Since the Shadow has to operate within 50 kilometers of its base station, and has a cruise speed of 148 kilometers an hour, you can have one standing by, loaded with a Hellfire, if some other UAV spots a target in need of prompt attention

While the RQ-7 is going to be replaced by the RQ-1C in the next few years, there is still an enormous demand for UAVs just now. So the 116 RQ-7s already delivered are being worked hard (they have already flown nearly 500,000 hours), and will probably be heavily used until worn out or lost in action. This year, the army will begin receiving a Predator class replacement for the Shadow 200, the 1.4 ton MQ-1C Sky Warrior.




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