Drones And Helicopters Team Up To Scout Targets In Iraq

Shadow scouts

AH-64 Apache Helicopter

AH-64 Apache Helicopter

From a training exercise in April 2015 at Fort Bliss, Texas. The helicopters were paired with RQ-7 Shadow drones.Alexander Neely, U.S. Army, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Reapers defined the last decade of drones at war. The future of drone war is likely different than its present. Large drones, flying for full days at at time, scouring the countryside for insurgents, is labor-intensive and requires safe skies to operate. In Iraq, the Army just tested a different approach to drones at war, using the Reaper’s smaller cousin, the RQ-7 Shadow, paired with AH-64 Apache helicopters.

Before missions, Apache crews can pilot Shadows to scout the area from the safety of their forward position. Defense One reports:

The Army is now talking publicly about the first heavy attack reconnaissance squadron to deploy and return with the Apache-Shadow combination, the service’s Shadow product manager told reporters in a conference call on Monday. That would be 3-6 Cavalry out of Fort Bliss, Texas, which returned from Iraq two weeks ago. “We are starting our after-action reviews with them, from an Apache standpoint and a Shadow standpoint, going and talking to the unit, how did the mission go, said. Lt. Col. Tory Burgess. “The information that we’re getting back is that the Shadows performed very well.”

So what, exactly, did the drones do? Well, as the aptly named Scout Warrior blog reports:

“Now before the unit even deploys out of the Forward Arming Refueling Point, or FARP, they can actually bring up the UAS (drone) feed, look through the sensors and see the target they are going to attack up to 50 or 60 miles away,” Apache Program Manager Col. Jeff Hager told Scout Warrior in an interview.

In addition, according to Colonel Jeff Hager, the U.S. Army Apache Project Manager, the Apache helicopters can control both the smaller Shadow and the predator-sized Gray Eagle drones, with more types likely in the future.

Apache helicopters, of course, could fly into the area first, but sending the drone in moments before gives the pilots a clear picture of where they’re fighting, and lets the attack helicopters focus on what they do best: attack.