The Skyborg team conducted a multi-hour flight test on October 26 of the Skyborg Autonomy Core System (ACS) aboard two General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned vehicles during the Orange Flag (OF) 21-3 Large Force Test Event at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.
Skyborg is focused on demonstrating an open, modular, government-owned ACS that can autonomously aviate, navigate, and communicate, and eventually integrate other advanced capabilities.
This experimentation event built upon the basic flight autonomy behaviors demonstrated at OF 21-2. The flight demonstrated matured capabilities of the ACS that enabled two MQ-20s to fly autonomously while communicating with each other to ensure coordinated flight. Additionally, the aircraft responded to navigational commands, stayed within specified geo-fences, and maintained flight envelopes. Both aircraft were monitored from a ground command and control station.
The test community, especially the 412th Test Wing, has been instrumental in helping to integrate government-owned autonomy into operational test events. These test events facilitate trust between the warfighter and autonomous technologies to help inform future operational use cases.
«These operational experimentation tests continue to demonstrate emerging technologies and helps the enterprise posture to transition this capability to the warfighter while preparing for the high-end fight», said Brigadier General Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
«We have made tremendous progress in transforming ideas to reality in a short time frame. The team has continued the full court press to mature a Government-owned autonomy core and develop the foundational technologies for a future capability», said Major General Heather Pringle, Air Force Research Laboratory commander.
«Large force testing of autonomous unmanned-unmanned teaming is the natural evolution to fielding warfighter capability for the future fight», said Brigadier General Matthew Higer, 412th Test Wing commander at Edwards AFB, California.
Future Skyborg experimentation events will explore direct manned-unmanned teaming between manned aircraft and multiple ACS-controlled unmanned aircraft.
Background: The Skyborg Vanguard team is a unique relationship that pairs Major General Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory as the Skyborg Technology Executive Officer (TEO) and Brigadier General Dale White, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft as the Skyborg PEO. The Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (ET-CTF), under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Adam Brooks, serves as the executing agent for these test missions at the 412th Test Wing, Commanded by Brigadier General Matthew Higer at Edwards AFB.
But if remotely piloted aircraft have made themselves irreplaceable, they also can’t stop evolving.
One reason is that not every combat environment will be as friendly as the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. and allied aircraft enjoyed supremacy. For another, the jobs that commanders need done grow more complex by the year.
The good news is that GA-ASI is keeping ahead of those needs. Our newest technologies enable capabilities that no remotely piloted aircraft ever had before. They’re joining the hunt for hostile submarines under the ocean’s surface and releasing defensive countermeasures to protect themselves from enemy fire, just like a human-crewed fighter.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian and variants also can integrate into a nation’s civil airspace in a way no remotely operated aircraft ever could before, vastly improving the way users can add these aircraft to their surveillance or other operations. The ability to fly the MQ-9B in and among normal British air traffic was one reason why it was selected to be the new platform of choice by the Royal Air Force: The Protector.
Our remotely piloted aircraft can even accommodate their own, small unmanned aerial systems, often known simply as SUAS. If the past 20 years has brought the golden age of large UAS, the coming 20 years will represent the evolution of their little brothers.
For example, GA-ASI has developed one game-changing SUAS known as Sparrowhawk, which an aircraft such as the MQ-9 can carry under its wing as it might a traditional payload like a sensor pod or a fuel tank. But when the MQ-9 reaches an area of interest on a mission, it can do something few remotely operated aircraft have ever done – launch the smaller UAS and then recover it in mid-flight.
The smaller, nimbler, swifter Sparrowhawk is difficult for an adversary to spot as it sprints low along its route. It does, via connection to its big brother, what remotely operated aircraft have been doing all along: Sends back vital information about what’s taking place, without the cost and risk of involving a human aircrew.
The Sparrowhawk might surveil an area and turn back to rendezvous with the aircraft that launched it. In a safe area, well away from hostile warplanes or anti-air systems, the larger UAS can snatch the Sparrowhawk out of the sky and continue its mission.
Once Sparrowhawk is secure, the larger aircraft can return to base – or, relying on its ability to stay aloft for many hours, continue its patrol and even launch another Sparrowhawk elsewhere later from its other wing station.
Integrating smaller aircraft with larger unmanned aircraft is possible in part thanks to advances in autonomy and multi-aircraft control pioneered by GA-ASI. As ever, the absence of human pilots on these aircraft means commanders can consider using them in ways they would never employ traditional fighters.
A SkyGuardian could release a Sparrowhawk with the intention of searching for hostile anti-air systems without needing to worry about the safety of the pilot. Indeed, an air commander’s goal might be to send Sparrowhawk to probe a denied environment so that it could report back about the radar or other systems that powered on or detected it – where they were, what type, and how many.
Sparrowhawk could respond with an electronic attack of its own to clear the way for other aircraft coming in behind it, jamming an enemy radar to deny its ability to sense a strike package passing through the area. Or the small aircraft could support missions focused on the suppression of enemy air defenses.
Small UAS will take the concept of unmanned aerial combat to new levels, with new capabilities like our Sparrowhawk and others leading the way in distributed aerial networking and joint, all-domain command and control. But SUAS won’t only help friendly forces deal with threats on the ground.
Another small system in the works by GA-ASI will help clear the way through the skies. LongShot, being developed under a contract from DARPA, will launch from larger UAS or human-crewed aircraft and charge into hostile airspace armed with its own air-to-air missiles, able to fire on enemy targets if it were so commanded.
LongShot gives commanders options, just as all remotely operated systems always have. It could initiate a fighter sweep ahead of a strike wave without putting a human crew in danger, or it could join an attack alongside the vanguard with human-crewed warplanes.
LongShot also could give legacy aircraft such as bombers a potent new anti-air capability. Imagine if a friendly bomber were en route during a combat mission and allied battle networks detected the approach of hostile fighters. LongShot would let the bomber crew go on offense against the threat without the need for its own escorts or the retasking of friendly fighters, preserving its ability to service its targets as planned.
Airpower, naval and ground warfighters doubtlessly will find other new ways to incorporate these new systems into their missions, as troops always have with novel weapons that give them more options and flexibility.
Those pilots, air crews, squadrons and other units are the latest links in a chain that goes back decades. From unpowered contraptions of wood and fabric to sophisticated warplanes that can launch and recover their own smaller squadrons, remotely piloted aircraft have made incredible progress since the days of William Eddy and his camera kites. And with stealthier and advanced new programs in the works, including some in support of the Air Force’s MQ-Next concept, there’s a great deal more to come.
What won’t change is their utility and indispensability from today’s and tomorrow’s military, security, governance and environmental protection operations, with an ever-growing suite of missions beyond those for which they were originally designed.
That, too, is something Eddy himself discovered following his return to New Jersey, when he found that thieves had stolen a batch of ice cream from his back porch.
As one local history records, Eddy reeled out his aerial surveillance kite and captured some images of the area: «One shot showed two men eating ice cream under a tree near Newark Bay. Eddy said he later found his ice cream box under the tree».
As the Department of the Air Force (DAF) stands up Rocket Cargo, its recently announced fourth Vanguard program, the WARTECH incubator process that birthed Rocket Cargo continues onward with the upcoming WARTECH 2.0 Summit July 15-16, where more future Vanguards could be fresh in the making.
On June 15, a WARTECH pre-executive committee board finalized its recommendations concerning which advanced technology topic proposals should still receive consideration at the upcoming summit to be named a Vanguard. The pre-EXCOM, which represents O-6 level leadership and directly reports to an executive committee, received presentations on each topic June 8-9 and then conducted evaluations June 10-15.
Vanguards are premiere transformational Science & Technology 2030 initiatives with DAF commitment to deliver game-changing capabilities to meet warfighter requirements for future operations, said WARTECH Execution Lead, Jeff Palumbo. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (ARFL) Transformational Capabilities Office, the group appointed in Fall 2019 to implement the transformational warfighting component of the Air Force Science and Technology Strategy, introduced initiatives that included the selection of the first Vanguard programs: Golden Horde, Navigation Technology Satellite 3 (NTS-3) and Skyborg.
To help identify future Vanguards, WARTECH was launched within the TCO in partnership with the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability, U.S. Space Force Strategic Requirements (USSF/S5B) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition’s Science, Technology and Engineering Directorate (SAF/AQR) as part of a new initiative. WARTECH teams the warfighter with technologists to mature ideas into proposals for technological capabilities that meet these future force needs.
«By nature, WARTECH is a highly collaborative process that brings together the technical, operational, acquisition, and planning communities to make these challenging investment decisions», Palumbo said. «This collaboration not only builds enterprise commitment to achieve the intended capabilities sooner but informs other elements of capability development—where do we need more technical maturation, where do we need to experiment, where do we need closer integration across technical areas or mission domains? WARTECH is not the only process that helps answers these questions, but it’s bringing many talented people together across the DAF and DOD to discuss, debate, and move out».
The ongoing work in AFRL’s technology directorates provides a key source of technologies to form integrated capability solutions. The technical experts across AFRL provide the knowledge base that the TCO relies on to scope problems, leverage outside expertise, and provide technical solutions to the operational challenges, Palumbo said. The TCO designs, coordinates, executes, communicates, and collects feedback on the process.
To be considered in the WARTECH process, the topic must align to the National Defense Strategy and DAF priorities, must feasibly address mission requirements within transition timelines, must have concurrence that it provides a «leap ahead» in advancement or a significant cost imposition on adversaries and must include a potential transition path.
While there isn’t an open call for ideas or proposals at any point, the entry point for ideas is a Scoping phase, which involves the review of current and projected threats as well as current operation plan briefs to identify operational challenges, operational concepts that may address those challenges and technologies that can perform or integrate those operational concept solutions. At this point in the process, those are the key elements that make up a WARTECH topic. Any data calls for ideas are specifically targeted at the operational problem and the associated areas of uncertainty, Palumbo said.
In late April’s Curation Phase six topic teams presented the status of their proposals and received feedback from internal stakeholders, including the AFRL front office group, technology directors, chief scientists, the TCO and special guest, Doctor Victoria Coleman, Chief Scientist of the Air Force. In early May teams presented to enterprise stakeholders, including at the major command, combatant command, field command, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, program executive officer and Program Executive Offices (PEO) staff levels.
The Independent Advisory Board also provided continuous feedback and held final sessions with teams in late May, and teams incorporated feedback, updated presentations and continued to refine their proposals for the aforementioned early June reviews to the pre-EXCOM board. If a topic makes it through the pre-EXCOM board to be a Vanguard candidate, it will then go to the summit.
The annual summit, which was first held in summer 2020, includes participants from the operational community (Air Force Futures, U.S. Space Force Futures, major commands, combatant commands), the acquisition community (the Air Force technology executive officer; SAF/AQR; AFRL technology directorates; Air Force Life Cycle Management Center; and Space and Missile Systems Center). Topics are reviewed by a two-star level EXCOM board, which is a governing body represented by the Air Force Futures, USSF/S5B, SAF/AQR, AFRL and the U.S. Space Force’s Chief Technology Innovation Office.
The summit leads to a prioritized list of proposed programs that have the potential to be commissioned as DAF Vanguard programs by a four-star level Executive Leadership Team, which is chaired by the vice chief of staff of the Air Force. Decisions coming out of the ELT may take time to be announced within the Department and may take even longer to be publicly announced because truly transformational efforts have security sensitivities associated with them.
«However, not being selected as a Vanguard does not mean the operational challenge goes away or the S&T activities supporting the challenge ends», said Palumbo. «TCO is building a pipeline of transformational activities that continue to work toward the vision of the future force planners. I think of WARTECH as an overarching process that is targeted at identifying advanced technology demonstrations supporting the most challenging DAF needs. The most visible will be Vanguard programs, but the process will inform many parts of the enterprise in both transformational and foundational activities across budget categories. We may have WARTECH cycles where one or more Vanguards are selected. We may also have cycles where no topics are selected to be Vanguards but significant investments are made toward an initial curation phase. These investments will position the topic for follow-on prototyping and demonstration activities as an integrated capability addressing the original operational challenge».
In March 2018, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Sensors Program Office, working jointly with the AFLCMC Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Office, sponsored three demonstration flights of an MQ-9 Reaper with AgilePod.
The flights were a first for AgilePod on an Air Force major weapon system and were the result of collaboration between AFLCMC and the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL).
«These flights mark the culmination of more than two years of cutting-edge technology development led by our colleagues within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate ManTech team, and Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian team», said Lieutenant Colonel Elwood Waddell, the advanced technologies branch chief within the Sensors Program Office.
The AgilePod program will offer a family of non-proprietary, government-owned pods of several sizes that can accommodate various missions, quickly change payloads and fit on multiple platforms.
The program uses open adaptable architecture and standards-based design to ensure maximum flexibility without proprietary constraints.
«The AgilePod program began with a desire to bring agile manufacturing practices to the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) enterprise, culminating in a wholly government-owned, open architecture ISR capability that was both payload and platform agnostic», said Andrew Soine, a program manager with AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. «The program is really taking off, with proposed ISR and non-ISR applications that we couldn’t have foreseen only a few years ago. By owning the technical baseline, we’ve shown what can be done in relatively little time and cost when faced with emergent user needs».
«Blue Guardian’s mission is to rapidly demonstrate emerging sensor technology», added Captain Juliana Nine, a program manager with AFRL’s Sensors Directorate. «These MQ-9 flights did exactly that. The open adaptable architecture based on Open Mission Systems and common electrical/mechanical interfaces developed by the Blue Guardian team enabled the rapid re-configurability of the sensors inside the AgilePod. This capability will help the warfighter adapt their sensor payloads as the mission dictates».
U.S. Air Force ownership of the registered trademark for AgilePod is key to the program, giving the Air Force the authority to designate a given pod as an AgilePod. This cultivates a highly collaborative relationship with industry partners as the Air Force shares existing technical data under the protection of an Information Transfer Agreement.
The agreement enables the sharing of all government technical data on AgilePod while protecting government ownership and enabling industry innovation. For the demonstration, the Air Force partnered with Leidos (facilitated the open architecture sensor integration), the University of Dayton Research Institute (implemented the open software for sensor command and control), AdamWorks (built the AgilePod) and General Atomics (integrated the podded system onto the MQ-9 aircraft).
«We believe this program has the potential to both increase the velocity at which future sensor technology is made available to the warfighter, as well as to improve agility in employing various sensor modalities to fit any given scenario», said Waddell.
The Sensors Program Office continues to collaborate with AFRL and industry partners on the design and upgrade of several AgilePod variants and has plans to test various sensor modalities within AgilePod on operational platforms in the near future.
General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced that it has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Army through the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium (DOTC) to evaluate and mature electromagnetic railgun weapon system capabilities to support the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Command (ARDEC). The three year period of performance contract will team GA-EMS with ARDEC to advance railgun technologies, deliver a series of prototypes, and perform system integration and testing for mission effectiveness and possible integration with existing and future Army vehicles.
«This contract allows the ARDEC to leverage our on-going research, development, and testing to advance railgun technologies and further develop railgun weapon systems for Army applications enhancing their effectiveness against multiple types of threats», stated Nick Bucci, vice president of Missile Defense and Space Systems at GA-EMS. «The railgun weapon system is intended to integrate with existing Army systems and complement conventional capabilities, providing an effective counter to aircraft, rocket and cruise missile raids as well as other threats».
«Using hypersonic projectiles, railgun provides the soldier with shorter time to target, achieves effectiveness at longer range, and provides a lower cost per engagement than conventional interceptors», added Mike Rucker, director of Programs for Missile Defense Systems.
GA-EMS has successfully designed and built multi-mission railgun systems ranging from an integrated 3 Mega Joule (MJ) test asset and a larger 32MJ system, to a new mobile 10MJ railgun system. GA-EMS’ unique approach to packaging and distribution of pulsed power reduces the system footprint required to launch guided hypersonic projectiles. This contract award will leverage over four years of engineering, development and testing of railgun launched hypersonic projectiles to advance and mature the railgun system to meet future Army mission requirements.
Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) completes a first-of-its-kind recovery of an F/A-18E Super Hornet at the Runway Arrested Landing Site in Lakehurst, New Jersey, October 13. This event, conducted as part of AAG performance testing with the Super Hornet, follows more than 200 roll-in arrestments completed at the site since late March. The AAG test team conducted more than 1,300 dead-load arrestments on the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft recovery system before involving manned aircraft.
«This milestone test event demonstrates AAG’s capability and signifies a big step forward in getting the system ready for duty on board the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier», said Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (PMA-251) program manager Captain Stephen Tedford.
While roll-in and fly-in arrestments are essentially the same to the AAG system, conducting both types of traps enables the test team to ensure all operational conditions that the system will experience are tested. At the completion of AAG performance testing, an Aircraft Recovery Bulletin will be generated, allowing system testing with manned aircraft aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) to progress.
AAG is a modular, integrated system consisting of energy absorbers, power conditioning equipment and digital controls, designed as the follow-on to the Mark-7 (Mk-7) arresting gear. The U.S. Navy is currently utilizing the Mk-7 Mod 3 and Mk-7 Mod 4 designs on all Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. AAG is a new system developed for the Navy’s future aircraft carriers and will make its debut aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78).
The AAG architecture, Health Monitoring Assessment and Prognostics technology, and digital control system provides built-in test and diagnosis, resulting in the system requiring less maintenance and manpower to operate than the Mk-7. This change in architecture is designed to provide higher reliability and safety margins, while allowing Sailors to focus on other areas of need. The system is also designed to allow potential arrestment of a broader range of aircraft, from the lightest unmanned aerial vehicles to the heaviest manned fighters.
Employs advanced technologies to provide higher reliability and safety margins;
Requires less maintenance and manpower to operate than the legacy arresting system;
Recovers all current and projected future carrier-based aircraft, from the lightest unmanned aerial vehicles to the heaviest manned fighters;
Allows for increased sortie rates, lower energy consumption and a decreased gross ship weight.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, announced on February 25 the successful first flight of Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper Extended Range (ER) Long Wing, retrofitted with improved long-endurance wings with greater internal fuel capacity and additional hard points for carrying external stores. The flight occurred on February 18 at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Test Facility in Palmdale, California, on a test aircraft.
«Predator B ER’s new 79-foot/24-meter wing span not only boosts the RPA’s endurance and range, but also serves as proof-of-concept for the next-generation Predator B aircraft that will be designed for Type-Certification and airspace integration», said Linden Blue, CEO. «The wing was designed to conform to STANAG 4671 (NATO Airworthiness Standard for RPA systems), and includes lightning and bird strike protection, non-destructive testing, and advanced composite and adhesive materials for extreme environments».
During the flight, Predator B ER Long Wing demonstrated its ability to launch, climb to 7,500 feet/2,286 m (initial flight test altitude), complete basic airworthiness maneuvers, and land without incident. A subsequent test program will be conducted to verify full operational capability.
Developed on Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funds, the new wing span is 13-feet/4 meter longer, increasing the aircraft’s endurance from 27 hours to over 40 hours. Additional improvements include short-field takeoff and landing performance and spoilers on the wings which enable precision automatic landings. The wings also have provisions for leading-edge de-ice and integrated low- and high-band RF antennas. An earlier version of Predator B ER featuring two wing-mounted fuel tanks is currently operational with the U.S. Air Force as MQ-9 Reaper ER.
The long wings are the first components to be produced as part of GA-ASI’s Certifiable Predator B (CPB) development project, which will lead to a certifiable production aircraft in early 2018. Further hardware and software upgrades planned for CPB will include improved structural fatigue and damage tolerance, more robust flight control software, and enhancements allowing operations in adverse weather.
Triple-redundant flight control system
Redundant flight control surfaces
Remotely piloted or fully autonomous
MIL-STD-1760 stores management system
C-Band line-of-sight data link control
Ku-Band beyond line-of-sight/SATCOM data link control
Over 90% system operational availability
C-130 transportable (or self-deploys)
79 feet/24 m
36 feet/11 m
Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine
Maximum Gross Take-off Weight (MGTOW)
10,500 lbs/4,763 kg
3,900 lbs/1,769 kg
850 lbs int./386 kg
3,000 lbs ext./1,361 kg
Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS-B) Electro-Optical/InfraRed (EO/IR)
Lynx Multi-mode Radar
Multi-mode maritime radar
Automated Identification System (AIS)
SIGnals INTelligence (SIGINT)/Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system
General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced on 08 January 2016 that projectiles with prototype components for a Control and Actuation System (CAS) successfully performed programmed actions and communicated component performance to a ground station via a telemetry link in tests carried out 7-10 December 2015 at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Fired at accelerations greater than 30,000 times that of gravity from GA-EMS’ 3 mega joule Blitzer electromagnetic railgun, the four test projectiles and the critical components within them experienced the multi-Tesla electromagnetic field within the launcher and performed as expected.
«We continue to mature railgun projectile technologies and conduct testing under varied open range, real-world conditions», stated Nick Bucci, Vice President Missile Defense Systems, GA-EMS. «We remain committed to advancing this transformational weapon system and are making significant progress in the development and testing of multi-mission railgun projectiles and critical component technologies».
During the December test firings, the projectiles not only survived and operated under the 30,000 G-force and multi-Tesla magnetic field launch conditions, but also successfully performed under ambient operating temperatures ranging between 20 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with up to 4 inches of snow on the ground, and with wind conditions ranging from 10 to 50 knots. To date, projectiles have been open range tested under temperatures varying from minus 11 degrees to as high as 105 degrees.
In June, 2015, GA-EMS successfully tested and received data from projectiles with on-board electronics, and marked the 100th launch of its 3 mega joule Blitzer testing prototype railgun weapon system. After the December test series, the Blitzer railgun system has performed 120 successful launches. Risk reduction and technology maturation testing of additional components will continue in 2016.
GA-EMS’ Blitzer railgun is a test asset designed and manufactured by GA-EMS to advance technology development toward multi-mission railgun weapon systems. Railguns launch projectiles using electromagnetic forces instead of chemical propellants and can deliver muzzle velocities greater than twice those of conventional guns. Blitzer railgun technology, when integrated into a weapon system that includes the launcher, high density capacitor driven pulsed power, and weapon fire control system, can launch multi-mission projectiles with shorter time-to-target and greater effectiveness at longer range.
General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced on June 22 that projectiles with on-board electronics survived the railgun launch environment and performed their intended functions in four consecutive tests on 9-10 June at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The week of test activity included marking the 100th successful launch from the GA-EMS’ 3 megajoule Blitzer electromagnetic railgun.
«This is a significant milestone in the technology development toward a railgun weapon system and marks the first time flight dynamics data have been successfully measured and down-linked from an aerodynamic projectile fired from our railgun on an open test range», stated Nick Bucci, Vice President Missile Defense Systems, GA Electromagnetic Systems Group. «GA-EMS’ successful testing and on-going investment to advance our scalable railgun and projectile technologies illustrates our commitment to mature this transformational weapon system and provide the warfighter multi-mission advantages across several platforms».
During the week of testing, the electronics on-board the projectiles successfully measured in-bore accelerations and projectile dynamics, for several kilometers downrange, with the integral data link continuing to operate after the projectiles impacted the desert floor. On-board measurement of flight dynamics is essential for precision guidance. The test projectiles were launched at accelerations over 30,000 times that of gravity and were exposed to the full electromagnetic environment of the railgun launch.
GA-EMS’ Blitzer railgun is a test asset designed and manufactured by GA-EMS to advance technology development toward multi-mission weapon systems. Railguns launch projectiles using electromagnetic forces instead of chemical propellants and can deliver muzzle velocities greater than twice those of conventional guns. Blitzer railgun technology, when integrated into a weapon system that includes the launcher, high-density capacitor driven pulsed power, and weapon fire control system, can launch multi-mission projectiles with shorter time-to-target and greater effectiveness at longer range.
Electromagnetic Systems Group of General Atomics
The Electromagnetic Systems Group of General Atomics (GA-EMS) is actively working to bring electromagnetic railgun technology to the Department of Defense for multiple missions: integrated air and missile defense, surface fire support and anti-surface warfare.
GA-EMS’s expertise in electromagnetics stems from GA’s long history in high power electrical systems, from developing and building both fission and fusion reactors, through the Navy’s first electromagnetic launch and recovery equipment for aircraft carriers.
GA-EMS has developed, built and successfully tested two railguns, the internally funded the Blitzer 3 MJ system and a 32 MJ launcher for the Office of Naval Research (ONR). GA-EMS also designed and built the pulse power supply for both guns and is developing projectiles for air and missile defense and precision strike.
GA-EMS is continuing the Blitzer family of railguns with a 10 MJ system designed for mobile and fixed land-based applications.
Railguns deliver muzzle velocities up to twice those of conventional guns, resulting in shorter time to target and higher lethality at greater range with no propellant required onboard the platform. Railguns offer much deeper magazines and lower cost per engagement compared with missiles of comparable range.
Shorter time to the target and extended range
Railguns can reliably launch projectiles to muzzle velocities of Mach 6-7+. A round fired at sea level can reach the horizon in 6 to 7 seconds and still be traveling faster than a conventional gun‑launched munition at its muzzle.
Lethality without high explosives
Hypervelocity impact achieves high lethality through kinetic energy, eliminating the safety and logistic burdens of explosives.
Railgun weapon systems employ guided, maneuverable projectiles, which can accomplish multiple missions with the same round. Railguns can also fire a family of different projectiles with varying capabilities, levels of sophistication, and cost.
Elimination of propellant
Because rounds are launched electromagnetically, propellant is not required. This results in much smaller rounds, enabling many more stowed rounds in a constrained volume as well as improved safety and reduced logistics burden.
The confluence of microelectronics, nanotechnologies, and electromagnetic acceleration enable missile performance without rocket motors. Railgun-launched guided projectiles are expected to be much lower cost than current assets for integrated air and missile defense.
With deep magazines and high, sustained firing rates, railguns provide unprecedented firepower.
The lower cost and higher firepower of railguns levels the playing field with potential adversaries.
General Atomics Railgun Projectile Development Passes Critical Tests at U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, announced on May 29 that it has delivered a third Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper RPA to the French Ministry of Defense. Delivered less than two months after contract award, the aircraft joins two other French Reapers in service, which together have accumulated over 4,000 flight hours since operations began in January 2014.
«This latest order from the French Defense Procurement and Technology Agency (Direction Générale de l’Armement – DGA) is a testament to Reaper’s ability to enhance the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) of the French Air Force in support of national, NATO, and other coalition operations», said Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI.
Pilots and sensor operators from Drone Squadron 1/33 ‘Belfort,’ 709 Air Base Cognac-Château Bernard are performing mission operations to include delivering increased battlefield situational awareness, augmenting combat search and rescue, and providing ground troop support. A total of 12 aircraft are planned to be in service by 2019.
The multi-mission Predator B is a long-endurance, medium-high-altitude RPA that can be used for ISR as well as targeting missions. The current aircraft configuration features an extensive payload capacity (850 lbs/386 kg internally, 3,000 lbs/1,361 kg externally), with a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet/15,240 meters, and can stay aloft for up to 27 hours.
Predator B is currently operational with the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force as MQ-9 Reaper and with the Italian Air Force as MQ-9. Predator B provides unparalleled close air support and persistent situational awareness over land or sea to coalition forces, demonstrating proven NATO interoperability. Some 240 Predator B aircraft have amassed more than one million flight hours since its first flight in 2001.
Predator B RPA
Designated MQ-9 Reaper by its U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force customers, the turboprop-powered, multi-mission Predator B RPA was developed with GA-ASI funding and provides significantly greater capabilities than Predator. First flown in 2001, Predator B is a highly sophisticated development built on the experience gained with the company’s battle-proven Predator RPA and is a major evolutionary leap forward in overall performance and reliability.
Featuring unmatched operational flexibility, Predator B has an endurance of over 27 hours, speeds of 240 KTAS/276 mph/444 km/h, can operate up to 50,000 feet/15,240 meters, and has a 3,850-pound (1,746 kilogram) payload capacity that includes 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of external stores. Twice as fast as Predator, the aircraft carries 500% more payload and has nine times the horsepower. It provides a long-endurance, persistent surveillance/strike capability for the war fighter.
An extremely reliable aircraft, Predator B 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.
Predator B is powered by the flight-certified and proven Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine, integrated with Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC), which significantly improves engine performance and fuel efficiency, particularly at low altitudes.
The aircraft is highly modular and is configured easily with a variety of payloads to meet mission requirements. Predator B is capable of carrying multiple mission payloads to include:
Lynx Multi-mode Radar;
Multi-mode maritime surveillance radar;
Electronic Support Measures (ESM);
Various weapons packages.
Predator B continues to improve and evolve, making it more relevant for its customers’ emerging needs. A new variant, Predator B ER, has been designed with field-retrofittable capabilities such as wing-borne fuel pods and a new reinforced landing gear that extends the aircraft’s already impressive endurance from 27 hours to 34 hours while further increasing its operational flexibility.
In 2016, the aircraft will evolve again when its wingspan will grow from 66 feet/20 meters to 79 feet/24 meters to hold the fuel that was previously stored in the fuel pods. This configuration will deliver 42 hours of endurance.
This aircraft has been acquired by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the Royal Air Force, the Italian Air Force, the French Air Force, and soon others.
Triple-redundant flight control system
Redundant flight control surfaces
Remotely piloted or fully autonomous
MIL-STD-1760 stores management system
7 external stations for carriage of payloads
C-Band line-of-sight data link control
Ku-Band Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS)/SATCOM data link control
Over 90% system operational availability
C-130 transportable (or self-deploys)
66 feet/20 m
36 feet/11 m
Maximum Gross Take-Off Weight (GTOW)
10,500 lbs/4,763 kg
3,900 lbs/1,769 kg
850 lbs/386 kg internally
3,000 lbs/1,361 kg externally
11.0 kW/45.0 kVA (Block 5) (redundant)
50,000 feet/15,240 m
Maximum Air Speed
240 KTAS/276 mph/444 km/h
GBU-12 laser-guided bombs
Lynx Multi-mode Radar
Multi-mode maritime radar
Automated Identification System (AIS)
Perform multi-mission Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and “Hunter-Killer” missions over land or sea