Despite being fielded in South Korea for well over a decade, the Textron Systems RQ-7B (Shadow 200) tactical UAV continues to give the US Army new capabilities, among them manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).
Shephard visited TUAS Platoon, D Company, 8th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at its base in Camp Mobile well north of Seoul. Although the semi-abandoned facility resembles a zombie movie set, its runway allows the rotational unit to conduct flights around the north of the country.
TUAS Platoon operates four RQ-7B UAVs, two with standard wings and two with IE extended wings. Each is fitted with either an IAI POP300 or POP300D payload, the latter featuring a laser designator.
This is certainly the case for forces stationed in South Korea, and the platoon will be exploring greater MUM-T cooperation in conjunction with resident US Army Apaches in coming months.
Cpt Brian Lee, platoon leader of the 26-person detachment, was careful to point out that his Shadows never approach or cross over the DMZ. This is in sharp contrast to a number of North Korean UAVs that have been discovered crashed in the South.
Lee said the Shadows have to fly within carefully defined airspace south of the DMZ, and only between the hours of 08:00 and 22:00 because of noise restrictions. They fly every day they can, but this is dependent on weather. The previous nine-month rotation averaged some 315 flight hours.
The platoon commander noted that Shadows are commonly employed for artillery correction and calls for fire, target handoffs (to either army or air force assets) and communications relay during training by the rotational armoured brigade.
Lee described advantages the RQ-7B can bring. For example, it can work with an Apache hiding behind a hill to designate targets for its Hellfire missiles.
As commanders of US Army rotational units recognise the Shadow’s value, the UAVs are being utilised more frequently, which Lee described as a ‘breakthrough’.
CW2 Damien Jones, a UAS technician, said there is a ‘lot of trial and error’ and that tactics, techniques and procedures are still being developed for MUM-T missions. This December will be the first big exercise for the current rotation.
One challenge is the built-up environment over which the Shadow operates. The runway at Camp Mobile is bounded by an electric railway line, for example. Much of South Korea’s topography is mountainous, so that poses line-of-sight communication challenges as well.
The platoon is not the only Shadow unit in South Korea. Co-located at Camp Mobile will be three platoons from 6-6 Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron (HARS). 6-6 HARS will operate the RQ-7B v2, which features better encryption, alongside Apaches as part of a unified MUM-T formation.
6-6 HARS in the process of rotating into the country from Fort Drum in the US. Ten army aviation units are converting into HARS formations that combine Apaches with Shadows to fill the surveillance gap vacated by the Kiowa Warrior.