The Army may start fielding loitering munitions by the middle of next year amid a push to adopt innovative technology seen in Ukraine, the head of Army Futures Command said Wednesday.
” I think those will start to deliver in the first six months of next year,” said Gen. James Rainey at a Pentagon media roundtable. He said that the Army views the procurement process as “iterative”, in which the weapons get better each time.
In July, the Army announced a plan to equip Army brigades in particular with loitering ammunition. The ,Project Lasso aims to provide infantry with more powerful weapons that can destroy enemy tanks.
The Army chose AeroVironment’s Switchblade 600 as the first drone to test for Project LASSO, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said in October. The units doing the tests will start with more than 100 Switchblade 600s. The Army will invite other companies to compete in follow-on tests, Bush said.
Both Russia as well as Ukraine are heavily utilizing loitering weapons, or suicide drones. Ukraine’s arsenal includes Switchblade 600s as well as cheaply made hobby racing drones fitted with explosives.
Rainey said that his timeline for fielding loitering munitions applied both to Project LASSO and other programs he did not name.
Unlike the years long-process normally associated with fielding new weapons systems, Rainey said the Army is moving quickly with loitering munitions because they are far simpler weapons than logistically complex and maintenance-heavy vehicles.
“Rainey said that if you need to construct a large training facility or if the vehicle has a backside maintenance system, it automatically falls into the category of deliberate modernization. Loitering munitions, by contrast, can come through the ammunition system, and units can use them “with a very minimal amount of training.”
Rainey also floated the idea of acquiring cheap and easy-to-use drones for Army units through rapid supply channels, such as using the Army’s class nine supply list, which is more typically reserved for things like spare parts and radios.
Speaking at an earlier appearance Wednesday at an Association of the United States Army, Rainey also gave more detail on previously announced plans to test new technologies inside Army units.
A platoon in Fort Moore, Georgia, is testing the integration of robots into urban operations. These robots include some with smoke generators and jammers, ground drones for exploring buildings, and drones capable of dropping other robots equipped with cameras onto the tops of buildings.
“A recent test showed that no human entered the building first. Rainey added that robots could be used for emergency evacuation.
The Army also tests robots during training exercises at Fort Irwin’s national training center with units that play the opposing force, Rainey explained. Rainey’s assistant, Lt. Gen. Ross Coffman at Army Futures Command, says that these robots can be used with both light and armored units.