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Pioneer Short Range (SR) UAV

After having been impressed by stories of Israeli successes with UAVs in the early 1980s, the Navy initiated an expedited procurement of UAV systems. Pioneer was procured starting in 1985 as an interim UAV capability to provide imagery intelligence (IMINT) for spotters for naval gunfire support from its battleships (originally launched from Navy Iowa-class battleships, today from LPD-class ships), as well as provide a UAV capability for the Marine Corps.

The Navy and the Marine Corps have two systems each, which are in a contingency status, meaning they can be deployed at a moment's notice. And they are maintained in the highest state of readiness for that contingency. They are not deployed regularly, as it used to be prior to that status being enacted.

The Pioneer program may be revived, possibly as "Predator Plus" with wet wings, a better engine, and a larger airframe similar to the Shadow 600. The data link is expected to be a miniaturized version of TCDL. This program is also directed to be TCS compliant.

Pioneer was procured starting in 1985 as an interim UAV capability to provide imagery intelligence (IMINT) for tactical commanders on land and at sea. In ten years, Pioneer has flown nearly 14,000 flight hours and supported every major U.S. contingency operation to date. It flew 300+ combat reconnaissance mission during Persian Gulf operations in 1990-91. Since September 1994, it has flown in contingency operations over Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia; most recently it flew in Task Force Eagle and IFOR operations again over Bosnia.

Pioneer skipped the traditional U.S. development phase of the acquisition process, and nine systems, each with eight air vehicles, were procured beginning in 1986 at an estimated cost of $87.7 million. Similar to Aquila, Pioneer is a small, propeller-driven aircraft.

The Pioneer began to encounter unanticipated problems almost immediately. Recovery aboard ship and electromagnetic interference from other ship systems were serious problems that led to a significant number of crashes. The Pioneer system also suffered from numerous other shortcomings. Ultimately, the Navy undertook a $50 million research and development effort to bring the nine Pioneer systems up to a level it described as a "minimum essential capability."

Pioneer is a Department of Defense joint system, having been flown by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Army. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are currently flying Pioneer from LPD class naval vessels and land based operations. First deployed in Dec 1986 aboard the Navy's battleship USS IOWA, the Pioneer is currently assigned to support ship-deployable USN detachments, both East and West coast, two USMC companies, plus testing and training units. Successful deployments have been accomplished by the USN aboard battleships, by the USMC aboard amphibious ships and on land by the USA.

Although Pioneer has never met objective requirements, in the first ten years of service, Pioneer flew nearly 14,000 flight hours and supported every major US contingency operation. The Pioneer system has seen operational use in U.S. contingency operations since the system's original fielding in 1986. Since September 1994, it has flown in contingency operations over Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia; most recently it flew in Task Force Eagle and IFOR operations again over Bosnia. Pioneer flew 1,895 hours in FY-1998, and as of 19 November 1999 Pioneer had accumulated over 20,000 program total flight hours.

It flew 300+ combat reconnaissance missions during Persian Gulf operations in 1990-91. The system received extensive acclaim for outstanding performance in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The high point of Pioneer's operational history was its unprecedented success during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps commanders lauded the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for its effectiveness as a RSTA, Naval Gunfire Support, BDA, and battlefield management platform. During the Gulf War all the UAV units at various times had individuals or groups attempt to signal the Pioneer, possibly to indicate willingness to surrender.

The most famous incident occurred when the USS MISSOURI, using her Pioneer to spot 16 inch rifle fire, devastated the defenses of Faylaka Island off the coast near Kuwait City. Shortly thereafter, while still over the horizon and invisible to the defenders, the USS WISCONSIN sent her RPV over Faylaka Island at low altitude. When the Pioneer came over the island, the defenders heard the obnoxious sound emitted by the two cycle engine, because the air vehicle was intentionally being flown low to let the Iraqis know that they were targeted. Recognizing that with the "vulture" overhead, there would soon be more of those 2000 pound naval gunfire rounds landing on their positions with the same accuracy, the Iraqis made the right choice and, using handkerchiefs, undershirts, and bedsheets, they signaled their desire to surrender.

1STRPVCO 9/26-3/3 107 334.8 1/16-3/3 62 232.7 7 1
2DRPVCO 11/27-3/1 69 226.6 1/16-3/1 55 192.4 2 3
3DRPVCO 8/15-3/2 160 424.1 1/16-3/2 79 271.3 4 -
RPV DET 1 8/7-3/3 99 347.6 1/16-3/3 32 97.8 2 2
RPV DET 2 11/3-3/3 64 209.7 1/16-3/3 39 134.0 - 6
UAVPLT 2/1-3/3 46 154.9 1/16-3/3 46 154.9 3 -
TOTAL 8/7-3/3 545 1697.7 1/16-3/3 313 1083.1 18 12

As of 1994, there were nine systems in the active force: the Navy operated five, the Marine Corps three, and one was assigned to the Joint UAV Training Center (JUAVTC) at Ft. Huachuca, AZ. An additional 30 Pioneers (procured in FY 1994) were delivered from September 1995 through November 1996, along with continuing support kit and spares procurement. These aircraft are in the Option 2+ configuration, which has slight increases in air vehicle weight and fuel capacity. A third extension of the Pioneer force's operational life is being planned through FY2003, until TUAV systems are fielded DOD plans to phase out Pioneer when the Tactical UAV [Outrider], which is in development becomes available.

The new replacement Payload the DS-12 EO/IR received Government production approval August 1998. The DS-12 offers improved reliability over existing Moked-200 (DAY TV) and Moked-400 (FLIR)

The prime contractor is Pioneer UAV, Inc., Hunt Valley, MD, a joint venture of an American and Israeli firms.

1999 was a successful but hectic and transitional year for Pioneer UAV T&E. The focus of testing was on the new Version 11 software OFP and the significant hardware improvements that are based on it, including the Common Automatic Recovery System (CARS), the Modular Integrated Avionics Package (MIAG), the PCS Autotrack System, and the Pioneer Digital Map System (PDMS). Due to the 60% drawdown in personnel and equipment experienced by VC-6 in 1999, the year also saw the transfer of primary Pioneer-community T&E responsibilities from VC-6 to VMU-1, which sent three detachments of personnel from 29 Palms to Webster Field to conduct Pioneer testing. VC-6 continued to assist with T&E during these VMU-1 evolutions, and VMU-2 also contributed logistical support.. Testing of the new Version 14 software, which replaces the currently-fielded Version 10.1C and underlies all new hardware and software capabilities being added to Pioneer, completed testing in May 00. Version 14 will add significant new capabilities to the Pioneer UAV, including GPS navigation and the capability to fly more complex Return Home / Return-to-Force profiles than previous software versions.

Initial tests were completed in November 1999, with final testing completed in May 2000.. Modular Integrated Avionics System (MIAG) is a new digital avionics package designed to replace the analog Central Processor Assembly (CPA) installed in deployed Pioneers. MIAG uses a digital autopilot, a new air data computer, GPS, INS, and payload control, and provides for faster aircraft response and better vehicle control. Initial testing was completed in February 2000 and final testing was completed in May 2000.

Common Automatic Recovery System (CARS) is designed to permit the Pioneer system to conduct automatic, hands-off landings of the UAV in both land-based and sea-based environments. Although sea-based testing could not be conducted due to budget and schedule constraints, the CARS system demonstrated the capability to permit automatic (Mode-I-like) approaches of both CPA-equipped and MIAG-equipped UAVs to runway touchdown and cable arrestment in the land-based environment, and to simulated net arrestments in the simulated shipboard environments. Incorporation of CARS into the Pioneer fleet will permit operation and recovery of the UAV in lower weather conditions than currently possible with purely manual recoveries, increasing operational effectiveness. Initial CARS testing with CPA-equipped Pioneer was completed in November 1999, and two phases of follow-on testing with both CPA-equipped and MIAG-equipped testing were completed in February and May 2000.

Operational Units

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:50:33 ZULU