Italy Upgrades its Army with Shadow UAVs
Textron subsidiary AAI Corporation recently announced that Italy’s Ministry of Defense Directorate of General Aeronautical Armament will buy 4 RQ-7B Shadow 200 systems for the Italian Army, under a EUR 51 million (about $64 million) contract. The systems are being bought “for deployment alongside NATO forces,” which presumably involves Italy’s sector in northwestern Afghanistan [PDF]. The buy was reportedly a multi-vendor competition, and AAI will partner with select Italian defense suppliers, including RIGEL International Engineering & Consultancy Agency. System deliveries are expected to begin in 2011.
A single Shadow system includes 4 UAVs; 4 One System Remote Video Terminals (OSRVTs); 2 One System Ground Control Systems and ground data terminals; a One System portable ground control station; and associated components and support equipment. In addition to its use by the US Army and Marines, the Shadow 200 reportedly has operators and buyers in Australia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Sweden. A larger Shadow 600 variant has served with Romanian Forces.
The RQ-7B Shadow 200 expands the original Shadow’s wingspan to 14 feet, endurance to 6 hours, and payload to 45 pounds. Its main payload is IAI Tamam’s POP300 with an infrared camera, daytime TV camera with a selectable near-infrared filter, and a laser pointer. Ground system compatibility with NATO STANAG 4586 will allow video streaming to compatible equipment, and it is the US Army’s main tactical UAV. This status has had the expected “network effect” on available add-ons. Shadows are being used as surveillance aircraft with laser targeting, and as aerial communications relays that let troops in mountainous zones like Afghanistan talk to one another, without having line-of-sight. Beyond that, a US Army program seems set to arm them with GPS-guided 81mm mortars.