The prime contractor has been selected to deliver and demonstrate unmanned Off-Board Sensing Station aircraft from the Air Force Research Laboratory, utilising its Gambit aircraft.
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OBSS aircraft are designed to fly in tandem and ahead of military aircraft to broaden their ISR and sensing capabilities.
Under the partnership, it is expected that the prime contractor will test whether its Gambit Series aircraft could form a modular core chassis from which several aircraft variants could be built upon, enabling the production of different unmanned platforms under the Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Platform Sharing program.
According to General Atomics, the announcement follows a year-long base period, which included a critical design review, with the laboratory exercising a build and flight test option.
“Throughout our 30-year history, GA-ASI has pioneered the advancement of unmanned aircraft systems that support our warfighters,” David Alexander, president of GA-ASI.
“AFRL is moving forward with GA-ASI because we have the right background and experience to develop the OBSS aircraft at scale and on time, and we look forward to working with them to deliver another game-changing UAS.”
It was recently revealed that GA-ASI and the Air National Guard (ANG), with joint support from the US Marine Corps (USMC) and US Air Force (USAF), flight tested an MQ-9A remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) equipped with a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications (SATCOM) command and control system.
This milestone capability provides global coverage and connectivity that will enable pole-to-pole operations for GA-ASI’s family of RPA — including models such as the MQ-9B SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian, MQ-9A Reaper, and Gray Eagle 25M.
GA-ASI president David Alexander welcomed the successful flight test, saying: “This is truly game-changing for our platforms. Using LEO SATCOM not only keeps GA-ASI aircraft connected from the North Pole to the South Pole to allow operations in the most austere environments, but it will also provide resilient connectivity that allows operators to pass much more data to and from the aircraft.”
Early testing indicates LEO SATCOM significantly reduces latency and can be used in all phases of flight. For customers across the MQ-9 family of systems, LEO SATCOM should decrease operational costs, and the smaller hardware footprint will ultimately increase flexibility and reduce future payload integration costs.