General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle

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MQ-1C Gray Eagle
Role Unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV)
Manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
First flight October 2004
Introduction 2009
Status In service
Primary user United States Army
Produced c.2004-present
Number built 75 as of Oct. 2013[1]
152 planned + 31 ground systems[2]
Program cost US$4,745.3 million (as of FY2013)[2]
Unit cost
US$21.5M (FY2013)[2]
US$31.2M (inc. R&D)[2]
Developed from General Atomics MQ-1 Predator

The General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle (previously the Warrior; also called Sky Warrior and ERMP or Extended-Range Multi-Purpose)[3] is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS). It was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) for the United States Army as an upgrade of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator.


The U.S. Army initiated the Extended-Range Multi-Purpose UAV competition in 2002, with the winning aircraft due to replace the RQ-5 Hunter. Two aircraft were entered, the IAI/Northrop Grumman Hunter II, and the Warrior. In August 2005, the Army announced the Warrior to be the winner and awarded a $214 million contract for system development and demonstration. The Army intends to procure eleven Warrior systems, each of these units has twelve UAVs and five ground control stations. With an expected total program cost of $1 billion, the aircraft was to enter service in 2009.[4]

The Army sought to have the Warrior designated MQ-12, but the United States Department of Defense allocated the designation MQ-1C instead.[5] It is planned to be operated by Task Force ODIN in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. In August 2010, the US Army announced that the MQ-1C had officially been assigned the name Gray Eagle.[6][7]

The Army announced on 3 September 2010 that the integration of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile on the UAV had been so successful that 4 weaponized MQ-1Cs would be deployed to Afghanistan in late 2010.[8]

Improved Gray Eagle[edit]

On 27 July 2013, General Atomics announced the successful first flight of the Improved Gray Eagle (IGE). The IGE is designed for increased endurance, with 23 additional hours compared to its Block I predecessor. It has 50 percent greater fuel capacity through its deep belly fuselage and features 50 percent or more payload capacity. The upgraded centerline hardpoint supports integration of a 500 pound optional external fuel tank or 360 degree sensor payload. The IGE's additional space, plus an improved Lycoming DEL-120 Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE), provides growth capability for an improved airworthiness design, with the potential of incorporating lightning protection, damage tolerance, and Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) features.[9][10]

On 11 October 2013, the Improved Gray Eagle took off from GA-ASI's El Mirage Flight Operations Facility and flew for 45.3 continuous hours until 13 October. The flight was the first of two endurance demonstrations of the IGE for the U.S. Army.[11]

From 17 January-19 January 2014, the IGE performed its second endurance flight demonstration for the Army, flying 36.7 continuous hours. Unlike the previous test where no payload was carried, this test had the aircraft flying with a SIGINT pod on one wing and two Hellfire missiles on the other. With endurance claims carrying the payload configuration validated, the IGE will receive upgrades to make it compatible with the Army's One System Ground Control Station (OSGCS) and future Universal Ground Control System (UGCS), with flights of the upgrade to be conducted in summer 2014.[12]


A Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) UAV, the Gray Eagle has an increased wingspan and is powered by a Thielert Centurion 1.7 Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE).[13] This is a Diesel piston engine that burns jet fuel, giving the aircraft better performance at high altitudes. It can operate for 36 hours at altitudes up to 25,000 feet (7,600 m),[4] with an operating range of 200 nautical miles (400 km).[14]

The aircraft's nose fairing was enlarged to house a synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) system, and targeting is also provided with an AN/AAS-52 Multi-spectral Targeting System (MTS) under the nose. The aircraft can carry a payload of 800 pounds (360 kg) and may be armed with weapons such as AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and GBU-44/B Viper Strike guided bombs.[14] Its sensors can fuse infrared imagery and use the SAR to scan and detect changes in terrain like tire tracks, footprints, and buried improvised explosive devices when performing a second scan.[15]

In May 2013, Raytheon delivered two electronic attack payloads as part of the Army's Networked Electronic Warfare, Remotely Operated (NERO) system, for jamming enemy communications on behalf of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). Derived from the Communications Electronic Attack Surveillance and Reconnaissance (CEASAR) system on the C-12 Huron,[16] mounting NERO on the unmanned Gray Eagle gives reduced risk, reduced operating costs, and two to three times the endurance of electronic attack missions.[17] From 2 June-19 June 2014, the Grey Eagle flew the NERO jammer in testing for 32 hours, while having the system in use for 20 of those hours. The flights showed that the Grey Eagle could operate with the payload without being subject to adverse effects.[18]

The Improved Gray Eagle has a maximum gross takeoff weight 4,200 lb (1,900 kg) with its 205 Hp engine, compared to the Gray Eagle's 3,600 lb (1,600 kg) MGTOW and 160 Hp engine. The Gray Eagle can carry 575 lb (261 kg) of fuel, while the IGE can carry 850 lb (390 kg) of fuel internally with its deep belly design and 500 lb (230 kg) centerline hardpoint. External fuel tanks can add 450 lb (200 kg) of extra fuel, allowing for a 50 hour endurance. The IGE also increases internal payload capacity from 400 lb (180 kg) to 540 lb (240 kg).[11] Empty weight is 1,318 kg (2,906 lb), endurance without the external tank is 45 hours, and engine can sustain an output of 180 Hp continuously. General Atomics has added new winglets that can increase endurance a further one percent and allow the addition of a new vertical antennae. A special operations configuration can carry two Hellfire missiles and a SIGINT payload for 35 hours, as opposed to 14-15 hours for the Block 1 Grey Eagle.[19]

The Army is expanding its use of manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) technologies for aviation platforms to allow manned aircraft to receive video feeds and weapon controls from unmanned aircraft to improve situational awareness, better focus weapons to support ground elements, and make Army ground units less reliant on aircraft from other services for overwatch and air support. The AH-64E Apache attack helicopter is the first Army rotorcraft with purpose-built MUM-T technology fused into its avionics, which allows pilots to remotely control a Gray Eagle's sensor package. This greatly extends the Apache's reach by using the Gray Eagle's sensors and weapons from the helicopter cockpit. Testing has demonstrated that the Apache's engagement range increases with MUM-T because the Gray Eagle can designate targets outside the helicopter's own targeting system range, which increases survivability. This could potentially lead to needing to buy fewer helicopters because their effectiveness increases substantially enough with the inclusion of Gray Eagle on missions.[20] An Apache can control a Gray Eagle and access its sensors and weapons from up to 70 mi (110 km) away.[15]

Reliability problems[edit]

Beginning in March 2011, Gray Eagles started showing poor reliability across all major subsystems. During that month, one Gray Eagle crashed in California when a faulty chip blocked a subsystem from sending commands to part of the aircraft's flight control surfaces. Flight testing was delayed, and was resumed when the chip was replaced, but it still left the drone with fewer available flight hours. The average time between failures of the aircraft or components is 25 hours, while the minimum required is 100 hours. The ground control station's time between failures is 27 hours, while the minimum time required is 150 hours. Sensors fail at 134 hours, compared to 250 hours required. In October 2011, a report concluded the Gray Eagle was meeting only four out of seven "key performance parameters," and its reliability continued to fall short of predicted growth. Software fixes have led to 11 unplanned software revisions, but has generally improved reliability.[21] Reliability problems have been attributed mostly to software issues from the addition of new sensors, which don't reappear once fixed. Initial focus was on expanding capability and achieving an availability rate of 80 percent, then addressing reliability.[22]

Operational history[edit]

The Army's 1st Infantry Division's combat aviation brigade deployed to Iraq with developmental Gray Eagles in June 2010.[23]

On 2 June 2012, the Gray Eagle reached a record 10,000 successful automatic launch and recoveries with the Automatic Takeoff and Landing System (ATLS). The system also landed with a 26 knot crosswind. By 25 July 2012, the Army’s Gray Eagle Block 1 aircraft has accumulated more than 35,000 flight hours since it was first deployed in 2008. On 25 June 2012, General Atomics announced that the Gray Eagle had been deployed in its first full company of 12 aircraft.[24] Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) was completed in August 2012.[2] There were 50 aircraft in service with a greater than 80 percent system operational availability rate.[25]

The Army is equipping 15 companies with Gray Eagle drones to go to every active-duty division. Each company will have nine aircraft serviced by 128 soldiers, which would increase to 12 with an additional platoon when deployed. Two to three companies are being fielded annually until 2018.[15]

Full-rate production was planned for April 2013, with follow-on operational testing in 2015 using a new ground station in common with the RQ-7 Shadow.[2] From 2008 to July 2013, the Gray Eagle has accumulated over 70,000 flight hours.[9]

On 25 September 2013, the Gray Eagle achieved 20,000 successful automatic launch and recoveries with the ATLS system, 15 months after reaching 10,000 successes. As of October 2013, ATLS is used at 8 sites including 3 overseas sites, with 4 more sites planned by January 2015. The Gray Eagle Block I has flown 80,000 hours since 2009 and currently averages 3,200 flight hours per month. Cumulative flight hours increased 64 percent within the last year.[1]

In November 2013, the 160th SOAR Army Special Operations unit received its first MQ-1C Gray Eagle. The regiment operating the Grey Eagle lessens their dependence on Air Force drones for providing reconnaissance and strike capabilities to special operations teams. The MQ-1C has greater capabilities than RQ-7 Shadow UAVs operated by the regiment by extending their range of coverage beyond a specific area of operations.[26] Two SOAR companies are to have 12 aircraft each.[15]


Data from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Gray Eagle.[3]

General characteristics




See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ a b Gray Eagle Completes 20,000 Automated Takeoffs & Landings -, 24 October 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e f "GAO-13-294SP DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs". US Government Accountability Office. March 2013. pp. 101–2. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Gray Eagle
  4. ^ a b "Army awards ‘Warrior’ long-range UAV contract". Army News Service. 2005-08-05. 
  5. ^ "General Atomics RQ/MQ-1 Predator". Designation Systems.
  6. ^ Gourley, Scott (24 August 2010). "AUVSI: It’s Official: 'Grey Eagle'". Shephard Group Limited. Retrieved 8 September 2010. That’s ‘Grey Eagle’ as ‘G-R-E-Y," added Col Robert Sova, US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capabilities Manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. 'The naming nomenclature, of course, is usually after an Indian chief or Indian tribe and I would suggest that you look up ‘Grey Eagle,’ because there is a good history of that particular Indian chief and his lineage with the army and special operations. So it is not only a ‘cool’ name, it has substance and meaning behind it. 
  7. ^ "US Army ERMP dubbed "Grey Eagle"". Australian Aviation. 30 August 2010. 
  8. ^ "'Grey Eagle' Weaponized UAS slated for Afghanistan". US Army. 3 September 2010. 
  9. ^ a b GA-ASI Successfully Flight Tests Improved Gray Eagle -, 27 July 2013
  10. ^ General Atomics test-flies upgraded Gray Eagle -, 30 July 2013
  11. ^ a b GA-ASI’s Improved Gray Eagle Flies Over 45 Hours Non-Stop -, 22 October 2013
  12. ^ Improved Gray Eagle Unmanned Air Vehicle Flies with SIGINT Pod and Hellfire Missiles -, 21 May 2014
  13. ^ "Thielert Centurion 1.7 (Germany), Power plants". Jane's Information Group. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  14. ^ a b "ERMP Extended-Range Multi-Purpose UAV". Defense Update. 2006-11-01. 
  15. ^ a b c d Army Arms Every Division With Gray Eagle -, 12 February 2013
  16. ^ "Jammer successfully tested on-board Gray Eagle UAV". 21 July 2014.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  17. ^ "Raytheon Delivers Electronic Jamming Capability for Gray Eagle UAS" (Press release). Raytheon. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  18. ^ U.S. Army tests NERO electronic warfare jammer on Gray Eagle UAV -, 14 July 2014
  19. ^ Test flights of Improved Gray Eagle resume -, 9 May 2014
  20. ^ U.S. Army Testing More MUM-T Technology -, 13 October 2014
  21. ^ Beckhusen, Robert (15 June 2012). "'Gray Eagle' Drone Fails All the Time, But Army Still Wants More". Wired. Wired. Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  22. ^ In short term, Gray Eagle trades reliability for capability -, 27 June 2012
  23. ^ Hale, Roland (28 November 2010). "Army unit flies new unmanned aircraft in Iraq". US Army. Archived from the original on 4 February 2011. 
  24. ^ "First Full Company of Gray Eagle UAS Now Deployed". (Press release). General Atomics. 25 June 2012. Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. 
  25. ^ Gray Eagle UAS Achieves 10,000 Automated Takeoffs and Landings -, 25 July 2012
  26. ^ Grey Eagle Company Joins 160th SOAR -, 12 December 2013
  27. ^ MQ-1C -
  28. ^ Northrop Grumman AN/ZPY-1 STARLite Radar

External links[edit]