In the mid-1990s the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps drew up a specification for a joint Tactical UAV (TUAV) that would meet their requirement for a short range battlefield surveillance and target acquisition vehicle. In 1996 the Mil-Tec Hellfox UAV was selected to meet this requirement and in May 1996 Alliant Techsystems was awarded a contract to develop the Outrider TUAV system using the Hellfox design. Unfortunately, the Outrider programme soon ran into trouble when the composite fuselage had to be re-designed in aluminium when it was discovered that a composite design offered insufficient shielding from electromagnetic interference.
The eventual Outrider UAV design was discovered to be over-weight and performed poorly thanks to its under-powered McCulloch 4318F piston engine, which resulted in yet another re-design. The final version, designated the RQ-6A, first flew in Nov 1997 and had a more powerful UEL AR-801R rotary engine, but many problems still remained unresolved. In Oct 1998 the Navy and Marine Corps left the programme because of cost and performance issues. Then in 1999 the inherent problems with the RQ-6A Outrider were brought into sharp focus when the US Army conducted a competitive evaluation between the RQ-6A and the AAI Corp Shadow 200 TUAV. The final report, which concluded that the Shadow 200 would better meet the Army requirement, was the final nail in the coffin of the RQ-6A Outrider and in late1999 the US Army finally cancelled the entire RQ-6A Outrider programme.
The AAI Corporation RQ-7B Shadow is a twin-boom pusher layout, similar to the RQ-2 Pioneer and RQ-5 Hunter, has a 13 foot wingspan, weighs 350 lbs and flies at around 14,000ft at 70 knots with around four hours endurance. It has a fixed tricycle undercarriage, is powered by a single UEL AR-741 rotary engine, can carry a GPS system for autonomous operations, be launched by a catapult or make a conventional take-off and either lands conventionally or uses its tailhook to catch an arrestor cable for a shorter landing. A complete Shadow 200 system consists of four RQ-7A UAVs and support equipment that includes two Ground Control Stations (GCSs) that control the UAVs, two ground data terminals that provide Line-of-Sight and non- Line-of-Sight datalinks, a hydraulic launcher, a tactical automatic landing system and an aerial vehicle transport.
The RQ-7B is used for day/night reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment and to achieve these tasks is fitted with a Wescam IR/EO sensor turret – a SAR/MTI unit and a hyperspectral camera may also be fitted in the future. Eight complete Shadow 200 systems were first ordered by the US Army in Dec 2004 and further orders soon followed – to date 64 systems have been ordered totalling 256 RQ-7Bs.
The Shadow 200 and its support equipment have proved their worth time and again in support of US forces in Iraq, where they have been both reliable and effective, despite the very adverse operating conditions. Poland has expressed an interest in purchasing two Shadow 200 systems in a deal worth $73M to support their manoeuvre brigades and, although this deal has yet to be agreed by the US Congress, it is likely to be approved..