General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is developing a modular open system architecture approach for its MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

The development effort is being done in partnership with the US Army, the company said on 7 October.

MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range 2 c General Atomics

Source: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

A modular open systems architecture is seen as a way to speed the swapping in and out of components, especially from third-party developers

A modular open systems approach to designing an aircraft’s electronics and software is intended to make it easier to incorporate upgrades. The approach establishes standards that open up an aircraft for integration with third-party software and hardware. It also makes component interfaces modular, allowing for hardware to be swapped in and out as needed.

The US government has embraced the modular open systems approach so that it does not have to rely on aircraft manufacturers to make changes or upgrades to its aircraft. That freedom could allow it to get higher quality or better priced components, in addition to reducing the amount of time it takes to upgrade an aircraft.

General Atomics says the modular open system architecture it is working on would encompass the entire MQ-1C system, including the UAV’s command and control software.

The company alludes to an increase in computer processing power on board the Gray Eagle, known as edge processing. That capability would allow the unmanned aircraft to quickly make sense of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data gathered by its sensors without needing to send the information back to a ground station for processing.

“The edge processing capability will maximise the utility of the medium-altitude aircraft providing, in near real time, threat detection, identification, location and reporting to the US Army and joint force,” says General Atomics.

The MQ-1C gets its “Extended Range” descriptor from its ability to fly 42h without refuelling. The UAV is designed to conduct armed surveillance, often as a scout in coordination with the US Army’s Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Gray Eagle can carry an electro-optical/infrared camera, synthetic aperture radar, ground moving target indicator radar, communications relay and four Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

General Atomics says it is testing the modular open system components on a simulator. It plans to start flight testing in early 2022 in coordination with undisclosed private companies and government entities selected by the US Army.