General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) will manufacture and perform demonstration flights of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) unmanned Off-Board Sensing Station (OBSS) aircraft. Following a 12-month base period that culminated in a Critical Design Review (CDR), AFRL exercised a build and flight test option.
GA-ASI’s innovative Gambit Series aircraft will validate the “genus/species” concept first developed by AFRL as part of the Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Platform Sharing (LCAAPS) program focused on building several aircraft variants from a common core chassis. LCAAPS is a major air vehicle effort under AFRL’s Autonomous Collaborative Enabling Technologies (ACET) portfolio, which is focused on developing technologies for Autonomous Collaborative Platforms (ACP).
«Throughout our 30-year history, GA-ASI has pioneered the advancement of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that support our warfighters», said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. «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».
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew a new survivable Air-Launched Effect (ALE) for the first time as part of a flight demonstration based out of the Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, on December 8, 2022. The ALE, known as Eaglet, was launched from a U.S. Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The Eaglet flight was jointly funded by GA-ASI and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and Aviation & Missile Center (AvMC).
«The first flight of the Eaglet was an important milestone for the GA-ASI/U.S. Army team», said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. «Eaglet is intended to be a low-cost, survivable UAS with the versatility to be launched from a Gray Eagle, rotary-wing aircraft, or ground vehicles. It enables extended reach of sensors and increased lethality while providing survivability for manned aircraft».
Eaglet fits into the ‘ALE Large’ category, which encompasses larger, more powerful sensors or payloads. Because of its design, Eaglet is capable of carrying a diverse range of payloads in support of multiple Army missions.
Eaglet design extends battlefield options for commanders while reducing their decision cycles. Gray Eagle can carry Eaglet for thousands of kilometers before launching it while being controlled through unmanned-unmanned teaming or as a component of advanced teaming command and control concepts.
Eaglet can work in concert with other long-range payloads carried by Gray Eagles, helicopters, or other platforms to support deep sensing in Multi-Domain Operations.
With this successful flight of the Eaglet, GA-ASI will work with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to feature it in other exercises to further determine its potential. The Eaglet is the newest entry into GA-ASI’s Evolution Series of advanced UAS concepts.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) further advanced its Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) ecosystem by flying three unique missions with Artificially Intelligent (AI) pilots on an operationally relevant Open Mission System (OMS) software stack. A company-owned Avenger Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) was paired with “digital twin” aircraft to autonomously conduct Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) multi-objective collaborative combat missions. The flights, which took place on December 14, 2022, from GA-ASI’s Desert Horizons flight operations facility in El Mirage, California, demonstrate the company’s commitment to maturing its CCA ecosystem for Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) UAS using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). This provides a new and innovative tool for next-generation military platforms to make decisions under dynamic and uncertain real-world conditions.
The flight used GA-ASI’s novel Reinforcement Learning (RL) architecture built using agile software development methodology and industry-standard tools such as Docker and Kubernetes to develop and validate three deep learning RL algorithms in an operationally relevant environment. RL agents demonstrated single, multi, and hierarchical agent behaviors. The single agent RL model successfully navigated the live plane while dynamically avoiding threats to accomplish its mission. Multi-agent RL models flew a live and virtual Avenger to collaboratively chase a target while avoiding threats. The hierarchical RL agent used sensor information to select courses of action based on its understanding of the world state. This demonstrated the AI pilot’s ability to successfully process and act on live real-time information independently of a human operator to make mission-critical decisions at the speed of relevance.
For the missions, real-time updates were made to flight paths based on fused sensor tracks provided by virtual Advanced Framework for Simulation, Integration, and Modeling (AFSIM) models, and RL agent missions were dynamically selected by operators while the plane was airborne, demonstrating live, effective human-machine teaming for autonomy. This live operational data describing AI pilot performance will be fed into GA-ASI’s rapid retraining process for analysis and used to refine future agent performance.
«The concepts demonstrated by these flights set the standard for operationally relevant mission systems capabilities on CCA platforms», said GA-ASI Senior Director of Advanced Programs Michael Atwood. «The combination of airborne high-performance computing, sensor fusion, human-machine teaming, and AI pilots making decisions at the speed of relevance shows how quickly GA-ASI’s capabilities are maturing as we move to operationalize autonomy for CCAs».
The team used a government-furnished Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) autonomy engine and the government-standard OMS messaging protocol to enable communication between the RL agents and the LVC system. Utilizing government standards such as OMS will make rapid integration of autonomy for CCAs possible.
In addition, GA-ASI used a General Dynamics Mission Systems’ EMC2 to run the autonomy architecture. EMC2 is an open architecture Multi-Function Processor with multi-level security infrastructure that is used to host the autonomy architecture, demonstrating the ability to bring high-performance computing resources to CCAs to perform quickly tailorable mission sets depending on the operational environment.
This is another in an ongoing series of autonomous flights performed using internal research and development funding to prove out important AI/ML concepts for UAS.
On November 10, 2022, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew the first production MQ-9A Reaper Multi-Domain Operations (M2DO)-ready variant of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper. This upgraded version of the MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft, also known as a the «-25», includes key features that will enable future integration and fielding of Open Mission Systems (OMS) as well as new sensors that will further expand the MQ-9A Reaper’s strategic reconnaissance capabilities.
Features of the new «-25» include improved power distribution and redundancy, GPS improvements, radar altimeters, nose wheel steering, and Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor system improvements.
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Marine Corps will both receive these improved MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 «-25» M2DO-ready aircraft under current contracts; however, the total number of aircraft receiving these improvements has not been released.
«We’re excited to position the MQ-9A Reaper enterprise for new missions through these capabilities», said GA-ASI Vice President of USAF Programs Claudia Mowery. «Future funding could potentially expand these capabilities to the entire MQ-9A Reaper fleet».
As part of a lease agreement, Poland will take delivery of MQ-9A Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI). The new agreement between GA-ASI and the Polish Ministry of Defence has a net value of $70.6 million.
«GA-ASI’s support for Poland and the NATO alliance is steadfast as they confront the ongoing war in the region», said GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue. «We look forward to delivering our proven MQ-9A platform system to Poland to enhance the nation’s ability to conduct persistent airborne ISR and support its Defense Forces».
MQ-9A Reapers are operated by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. GA-ASI’s newer MQ-9B variant has been acquired by the UK and Belgium. The MQ-9B maritime surveillance configuration (SeaGuardian) recently began operations in support of the Japan Coast Guard.
MQ-9A Reaper has endurance of over 27 hours, speeds of 240 KTAS/276 mph/444.5 km/h and can operate up to 50,000 feet/15 240 m. It has a 3,850-pound (1,746-kilogram) payload capacity that includes 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of external stores. It provides a long-endurance, persistent surveillance capability with Full-Motion Video and Synthetic Aperture Radar/Moving Target Indicator/Maritime Radar. An extremely reliable aircraft, MQ-9A Block 5 is equipped with a fault-tolerant flight control system and triple redundant avionics system architecture. It is engineered to meet and exceed manned aircraft reliability standards.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) successfully completed an air-to-air laser communication link between GA-ASI’s Laser Airborne Communication (LAC) terminals integrated onto two company-owned King Air aircraft. Laser communication is desirable for military applications because of its Low Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) and anti-jam capability that can support much higher data rates than radio frequency systems.
«This air-to-air demonstration was a major success and marks a critical milestone for GA-ASI’s Lasercom development team», said GA-ASI Vice President of Mission Payloads & Exploitation, Satish Krishnan. «The success of this flight will pave the way for more opportunities to demonstrate crosslinks from aircraft to other platforms, including unmanned aircraft, maritime vessels, and space systems».
The aircraft flew out of Montgomery Field in Kearney Mesa, California on September 26, 2022, and performed the test in segregated airspace near Yuma, Arizona During the flight test, the team maintained a link at 1.0 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and exchanged data, including real-time navigation, video, and voice data.
GA-ASI has developed a family of optical communication capabilities and will play an important role in transitioning these capabilities to users in a variety of domains, from air to sea. GA-ASI expects that laser communications will enable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) produced by the company to perform beyond-line-of-sight communications for airborne, maritime, and ground users who also use optical communications, as well as with future air-to-space optical communication applications. This capability can be applied as a podded solution to GA-ASI’s full line of unmanned aircraft, including MQ-9B SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian, MQ-9A Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle 25M.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has launched its latest variant of the Gray Eagle line of Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Gray Eagle 25M. The GE-25M brings a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) to the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)-capable system to ensure incremental enhancements can be made at the speed of emerging threats.
The «M» in 25M stands for Modernized and incorporates open architecture aircraft and ground systems, advanced datalinks, and an upgraded propulsion system, significantly enhancing the ability to add new capabilities, provide resilience to electronic threats, and deliver expeditionary employment to austere locations.
«GE-25M incorporates MOSA across the aircraft and ground system architectures, which enables rapid integration of advanced payloads and communication equipment, along with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) capabilities», said GA-ASI Vice President of Army Programs Don Cattell. «This will reduce the sensor-to-shooter timelines, while simultaneously reducing the datalink bandwidth requirements in a contested environment, thus increasing range and resiliency».
The onboard ‘edge processing’ capability will maximize the utility of the Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance aircraft providing, in near real time, threat Detection, Identification, Location and Reporting (DILR) to the U.S. Army and Joint Force. Furthermore, the software components are being designed to be portable to other manned and unmanned aircraft systems the U.S. Army is developing, enhancing capability while reducing cost.
Multi-Intelligence sensors on the new UAS deliver actionable information, providing commanders with reach, overmatch, and combat options. GE-25M provides advanced teaming with Future Vertical Lift (FVL), Air-Launched Effects (ALE), and joint assets for Stand-Off Survivability with Stand-In Capability, facilitating convergence among cross-domain fires.
The new platform provides critical Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Target Acquisition (RSTA) capability to Division Commanders, and acts as a quarterback providing a persistent, key communication node in the aerial tier network.
Earlier this year, factory upgrades began on two U.S. Army Gray Eagle Extended Range UAS which will become the first 25M variants. These 25M aircraft are scheduled for flight test and qualification beginning in 2023. The GE-25M comes packaged with a next-generation SAR with long range sensing and navigation capability, and a menu of advanced sensors and payloads mission-tailorable options. The GE-25M is controlled from a laptop-based MOSA ground station, reducing material footprint while dramatically improving transportability, as well as enabling expeditionary operations.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) used a company-owned Avenger MQ-20A Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to fly a military aircraft using an Artificially Intelligent (AI) pilot deployed on an operationally relevant, Open Mission Systems (OMS) software stack on September 12, 2022.
The Avenger’s completely autonomous flight used an AI pilot for close to 30 minutes as a part of a cooperating live, virtual, and constructive UAS swarm. The flight was performed as part of GA-ASI’s ongoing commitment and investment into the development of advanced autonomy of AI and Machine Learning (ML) for UAS.
The flight made use of GA-ASI’s novel Reinforcement Learning (RL) architecture to develop and validate an RL agent in an operationally relevant environment. RL agents provide a new and innovative tool for next-generation military platforms to make decisions under dynamic and uncertain real-world conditions. The team flew “chase and avoid behavior” where real-time updates were made to the flight path in order to avoid adversaries using live fused tracks. Live tracks were provided to the system using the Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor network that was supplied by Lockheed Martin.
«The flight was a tremendous success and demonstrated a number of groundbreaking capabilities in the race to operationalize autonomy for Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA)», said GA-ASI Senior Director of Advanced Programs Michael Atwood. «It’s exciting to see how AI can be used to advance how and where we fly unmanned systems as the complexity of the battlespace increases. Our ‘chase and avoid’ agent’s ability to dynamically update the flight path as threats were identified is the first step towards building an ecosystem of collaborative autonomous combat aircraft».
TacIRST is a new class of multifunction, embeddable sensor system with an open architecture. It was developed by Lockheed Martin to provide a range of capabilities for both crewed and uncrewed aircraft. «We anticipated the need for passive, long-range threat detection by autonomous aircraft and are proud to see this capability integrated successfully on the Avenger», said Terry Hoehn, Director of Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Threat Warning Systems. «We look forward to further collaboration and testing with GA-ASI».
The team used a government-furnished CODE autonomy engine and the government-standard OMS messaging protocol to enable communication between the RL agent and the Tactical IRST. By utilizing government standards, such as CODE and OMS, rapid integration of autonomy for collaborative combat aircraft becomes possible.
General Dynamics Mission Systems also supplied key technologies to the flight. The mission computer used to host the OMS software is part of the Digital Backbone Node (DBN) family of systems from General Dynamics Mission Systems. The DBN architecture enables rapid and secure deployment of evolving capabilities needed for CCA through application of the latest government open architectures, high-performance computing, advanced cooling, and a high-speed backplane with multi-level security to maximize battlefield collaboration between platforms.
This flight was another in an ongoing series of autonomous flights performed by GA-ASI using internal research and development funding to prove out important AI/ML concepts for advanced UAS.
The Navy recently awarded a $135.8 million contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) for eight MQ-9A Extended Range (ER) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that are scheduled for delivery to the Marine Corps in late 2023.
MQ-9A ER will provide a large scale, long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Marine Expeditionary Force. It is designed to extend the aircraft’s endurance to more than 30 hours and equipped with triple redundant avionics architecture.
As part of the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 efforts, the Marines plan to transition Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 3 located at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to MQ-9A operations. VMU-3 will utilize the MQ-9A ERs to support training for the Marine Littoral Regiment.
The Multi-Mission Tactical UAS program office (PMA-266), who manages the Marines MQ-9 program, used the Air Force’s Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution (ARES) to award the contract. ARES is a five-year fixed Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contract.
«Our team has ensured the development and fielding of a new combat capability, critical for the Marine Corps Force Design (FD) 2030 vision, at an exceptional speed», said Captain Dennis Monagle, PMA-266 program manager.
Since the program’s inception in 2018, PMA-266 has leveraged Air Force investments and contracting solutions to procure MQ-9, ultimately accelerating the fielding time. By tailoring and streamlining the typical acquisition strategy, the MQ-9 program commenced post-Milestone C, eliminating three to five years of traditional acquisition efforts.
«We closely aligned with the USAF MQ-9 System Program Office (SPO), National Guard Bureau, Marine Corps stakeholders, as well as our vendor teams in order to develop and integrate as quickly as possible», Monagle said.
The first two MQ-9 aircraft were delivered in 2019 to Marine Unmanned Air Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 1 and since then have flown over 15,000 operational flight hours. The program continues to develop new, unique payloads and capabilities to meet future requirements for FD 2030. These payloads include the Detect and Avoid System (DAAS), a Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (PLEO) satellite system, an airborne network extension payload (Sky Tower), and an electronic warfare payload.
The MQ-9A and associated payloads will provide the Marines with organic network extension and Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Targeting (ISR-T) in support of expeditionary advanced based operations, littoral operations in contested environments, and maritime domain awareness.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has integrated the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E V2 multi-mode radar onto an MQ-9A Block 5 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and performed its first test flight on April 14, 2021. The maritime-focused radar is also being fitted for the MQ-9B SeaGuardian RPA.
«The benefits of this Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR) in the complex littoral and maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) environment will add world-class situational awareness for our RPA», said GA-ASI Vice President of International Strategic Development Robert Schoeffling.
Designed and manufactured in Edinburgh, UK, the Leonardo 7500E V2 radar is the latest variant of the highly successful Seaspray Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar family, featuring updated processor and receiver technology to meet the evolving demands of the ISR mission set. The 7500E V2 is the largest and most capable Seaspray AESA radar and enhances the operationally proven 7500E.
The Seaspray greatly enhances the capabilities of GA-ASI RPA and builds on the already close working partnership between GA-ASI and Leonardo.
Tony Innes, VP Sales, Radar and Advanced Targeting at Leonardo said, «GA-ASI are an important partner and I’m delighted to see our joint projects generating interest in the market. Seaspray’s long-range, wide-area maritime and ground surveillance capability makes it an ideal fit for the MQ-9A and MQ-9B. The V2 offers significant range increases for certain critical modes, improved maritime detection and the ability to handle a high number of targets, while improving on its already-capable over-land mode suite».