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Army's Premier Helicopter MRO Facility Takes on Unmanned Aircraft Work

October 26, 2012

By Mrs. Brigitte Rox (AMC) , Ms. Jaclyn Nix (AMC)

Corpus Christi, TX -- Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) has officially opened its doors to military unmanned aircraft with its first Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) modification program. The new program marks a departure from CCAD's typical product line of helicopters and their components. If all goes well with the Shadow® Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System program, it could mean more unmanned aircraft work for the depot in the future.

With more UAS being used by the military, the depot inducted its first round of Shadows on September 24, 2012 under a public-private partnership with AAI Logistics & Technical Services, an operating unit of Textron Systems, to modify a set of Shadow aircraft to a newer configuration. CCAD has not brought in a major project like this in over 20 years. After decades of exclusive helicopter support, the Shadow is the first fixed-wing aircraft to be supported by the depot in at least 40 years.

The RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is used by the United States Army, Marine Corps, Australian Army and Swedish Army for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition (RSTA) and battle damage assessments. The air vehicle is launched from a trailer-mounted catapult and recovered with the aid of arresting gear similar to jets on an aircraft carrier. Its gimbal-mounted, digitally-stabilized, liquid nitrogen-cooled electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera relays video in real time to the ground control station (GCS). CCAD artisans will modify the existing Shadow UAS fleet to achieve greater on-station time and installed upgraded mission modules.

To prepare for the Shadow, CCAD's helicopter-savvy artisans underwent special training on the unmanned aircraft, working closely with the Original Equipment Manufacturer, AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems, also an operating unit of Textron Systems. AAI Logistics & Technical Services and AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems have designed, manufactured, fielded and sustained combat-proven unmanned aircraft systems for more than 25 years.

Known for their helicopter support and unique joint force capabilities, CCAD is a step ahead of DoD's response to budget cuts that could put an end to many military programs. They pulled an about-face in 2011 with a depot-wide reorganization to reflect the better business practices of the most successful corporations in the private industry. By focusing on employee empowerment, CCAD maintains a dedicated cost-conscious workforce striving for innovation, accountability and professional growth.

A vast number of programs and processes have undergone employee-driven change to reduce turnaround time, space and cost. Investing in state-of-the-art systems and technologies, while also planning for the future through added capabilities, makes CCAD uniquely adaptable to a flexible workload.

The depot is taking the initiative to reduce the cost of sustaining the Shadow fleet through repair and modification, a move that could mean more opportunity to fund other programs in Department of Defense (DoD). It also means better stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

"The first step into UAS allows CCAD to gain fifteen additional jobs and save the American taxpayer two million dollars annually," said Major Anilbir Bhatia, Program Manager. CCAD recruited several UAS experts to assist with the new product line while also training their own artisans on unmanned aircraft like the Shadow.

"As defense dollars shrink, we want to showcase our depot as a modernized facility that adopts best business practices," said Art Gomez, Business Development Specialist.

The Army began using AAI's Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System in 2002 and the Marine Corps shortly thereafter. Since then, the aircraft has achieved 750,000 flight hours during more than 173,000 missions. The majority of these hours were amassed during more than 173,000 missions that took place over the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Shadow provides close to real-time, highly accurate, sustainable capability for over-the-horizon reconnaissance, surveillance, battle damage assessment and target acquisition.

"The Warfighter can be assured of superior-quality repairs," said Major Bhatia.

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