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By Stefan Nitschke, M.Sc., Defence Analyst

The US Army’s Extended Range Multi-Purpose (ERMP) programme is now coming into a new phase. Certainly forming part of the Army’s modernisation – the Future Combat Systems (FCS) – the Army seeks to acquire an existing ERMP UAV system for near real-time over-the-horizon/hill RSTA, C2, communication relay, EW/SIGINT, precision attack, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) detection, and BDA. While the Army’s RQ-5A Hunter TUAVs will remain funded in its Program Objective Memorandum through 2011 and the Northrop Grumman RQ-8 Fire Scout VTUAV is actively on order for the service to bring to the ground-based FCS a Class IV (vehicle-launched) UAV for further testing, the envisaged long-range (350 km+), medium-altitude (25,000 feet), long-endurance (24 hours) ERMP TUAV would be able to carry precision-guided munitions like the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, a multi-mode EO/IR/laser designation device plus secure datalinks to other manned airborne assets like the Army’s Longbow Apaches or other Army intelligence facilities and field artillery targeting assets. Meanwhile, the Army has selected BAE Systems Information & Electronic Warfare Systems (IEWS) to begin a 36 months and US$27million System Design and Development (SDD) for the ERMP’s Tactical SIGINT Payload (TSP).

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) – the manufacturer of the improved, prop jet RQ-1B Predator, the Army’s Improved GNAT (I-GNAT), and the Predator A systems which were already delivered to the US Navy, US Air Force, and the Italian Air Force – entered into exclusive teaming agreements with AAI Corporation and SPARTA, Inc. to work on the Army’s ERMP UAV programme. Named collectively as Team Warrior, it will now proceed to the next phase of the SDD contract award process, providing the Army with a low-risk solution worth US$900 million to meet its operational requirements for persistent real-time knowledge of the battlefield. The platform of choice could be the RQ-1A/B Predator system eventually carrying – in accordance to the Army’s “single fuel in the battlefield” objective – a jet and/or diesel-driven heavy fuel engine from the German company Thielert Aircraft Engines GmbH. The SDD would then be followed by a three weeks Systems Capabilities Demonstration (SCD) which will be conducted these months at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The results of the Team Warrior demonstration, along with those of a second finalist, are then scheduled to be announced this April when the winner of the ERMP SDD contract will be awarded.

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