On April 12th, Company F, 1st Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment was activated at Fort Riley, Kansas as part of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Company F is markedly different from the rest of the Battalion in that it is equipped with the MQ-1C Grey Eagle unmanned aerial system (UAS).
This activation is part of the decision by the US Army to integrate UAS vehicles into regular Army Aviation units to supplement existing platforms and provide a range of capabilities from reconnaissance to attack. Everything about the activation plays to this. Company F is part of an attack reconnaissance aviation battalion primarily equipped with the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. The MQ-1Cs, which has been developed specifically to allow for partnership with manned aircraft (including the AH-64D and OH-58D), will be able to function on their own or support other elements of the Battalion.
Though just coming into service now, the US Army has been developing the MQ-1C since awarding a contract to General Atomics in 2005 for what was initially intended to be a follow-on to the RQ-5B Hunter UAS. As the Army expanded its plan for UAS platforms, it added additional missions to the profile of the vehicle, initially known by Warrior and other names.
The ability of the drone to provide immediate strike and persistent coverage was quickly identified and the Army deployed vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan to showcase these new capabilities. Vehicles were deployed both with Task Force ODIN/Task Force ODIN-Afghanistan and through Company E, Unmanned Aerial Systems Training Battalion (Provisional). Both of these elements were formed in 2007 and highlighted the Army's interest in UAS platforms. Between May and June 2010, MQ-1C aircraft and crews from E Company, UASTB (Prov) deployed to Afghanistan fired 8 HELLFIRE missiles successfully at 8 targets. The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) program, developing a guidance unit for the 70mm Hydra rocket family, is also expected to become an important part of the MQ-1C arsenal. In 2011, further demonstrating Army Aviation's commitment to UAS platforms, the UASTB (Prov) was reflagged and formally activated as 2nd Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment.
The MQ-1C will definitely be a core part of Army Aviation in the near future. The vehicles provide an important organic capability for Army units and are intended to become a standard component of Combat Aviation Brigades. This integration of an organic armed UAS for Army commanders will no doubt mean significant changes for how they look at their fire support options. Those looking to game near future engagements based on current events or on ahistorical timelines, using either Force on Force or Tommorrow's War, might find it interesting to look at these developments as an example of how armed UAS platforms might fit in with their own scenarios.
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