General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the first time has launched an Area-I Altius-600 drone from its MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range unmanned air vehicle (UAV).
The test launch of the Altius-600 from the MQ-1C was part of a roughly two-week demonstration activity to show new uses for the US Army’s largest UAV, for instance, as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tool to be used against sophisticated adversaries, such as China or Russia.
The third event in a series of demonstrations for the US Army that started in October 2019, the flights also tested several other long-range sensors aboard the MQ-1C and a laptop-based flight control system, General Atomics said on 29 June. Two full scope demomonstrations were held, one on 11 June and the other on 18 June at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, the firm says.
“We set out on a mission to demonstrate survivability and capability to the US Army through strong industry partnerships in a cost conscious and affordable way,” says David Alexander, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. “The goal was to take the army’s concepts and put the power of industry innovation to work to make them a reality.”
The US Army’s MQ-1C, as well as the US Air Force’s General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, are fixtures over battlefields in the Middle East. The US Department of Defense relies on the UAVs for reconnaissance and precision airstrikes, typically against terrorist or insurgent targets.
However, against China and Russia, countries which have sophisticated anti-aircraft missile batteries, the slow flying and easy-to-spot UAVs are vulnerable to being shot down. General Atomics and the US Army are experimenting with ways to retrofit the MQ-1C so that it can fly just beyond the reach of enemy missiles and use powerful sensors, as well as air-launched drones, to peer into other countries’ territories.
The US Army is contemplating using the Gray Eagle Extended Range’s 40h flight endurance to keep a persistent eye on adversaries.
In the recent demonstrations, the Altius-600 drones, which also are called air-launched effects by the US Army, were launched and controlled via the Gray Eagle Extended Range UAV, says General Atomics. Using what the company calls a “Tactical Scalable Mobile” communications network, the larger aircraft relayed real-time, full-motion video from the drone to the ground.
In concept, air-launched effects would fly into hostile airspace to gather intelligence, thus keeping the more vulnerable and expensive MQ-1C out of harm’s way. The air-launched effects would be disposable.
The company also notes that the entire flight, including pre-flight checks, taxiing, in-air manoeuvring and landing, was controlled using a ruggedised laptop. That small computer replaced a usual ground control station which is housed within a small shipping container.
The MQ-1C also continued testing on communications and electronic intelligence gathering sensors, such as L3Harris’s Rio Nino and Sierra Nevada’s Small SWAP Auto-ELINT. The Rio Nino is capable of detecting electronic emissions, such as radar or radio communications, out to 135nm (250km), says General Atomics.
General Atomics plans to demonstrate additional capabilities on the MQ-1C next year, including a new heavy fuel engine with a 200hp (149kW) output; a 20hp improvement on the current piston engine. The new powerplant would come with dual 7.5kW brushless electric generators which could be used to power more electronics aboard the UAV.