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L-3 ready to sell Spydr II surveillance aircraft

L-3 Communications is ready to offer its all-new Spydr II to international buyers, with the Beechcraft King Air 350ER-derived surveillance aircraft having made its debut appearance at the Farnborough air show.

Capable of performing a wide range of tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) duties, Spydr II leverages L-3’s experience with the US Air Force’s Project Liberty, which rapidly fielded a fleet of more than 70 King Air-based MC-12Ws.

L-3’s Mission Integration business unit received certification earlier this year from the US Federal Aviation Administration for a package of adaptations including a new nose section which contains a retractable electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret.

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Tony Best/FlightGlobal

Spydr II uses roll-on, roll-off mission equipment and modular sensors to provide a rapidly reconfigurable capability, says John Koziol, the company’s vice-president, ISR systems, who previously headed the Project Liberty acquisition for the USAF.

The prototype in the static display at Farnborough was in a ground/border surveillance configuration, with the twin-turboprop carrying a pair of EO/IR sensors and L-3’s Rio signals intelligence (SIGINT) system; developed using technology from the USAF’s Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint platform.

A four-member crew comprises two pilots, a full-motion video operator at a console with two 22in monitors, and a linguist in the rear of the cabin. Maximum flight endurance is up to 9h with additional fuel tanks, which Koziol says means the aircraft can fly 304nm (563km) from an operating base and remain on station for 6h.

During an operation, the aircraft can relay real-time video to soldiers equipped with Rover terminals, or via satellite communications to a command centre to support planning.

“Operators can use Spydr II for direct operational support for ground forces and allies – it’s not a strategic collection platform,” Koziol notes.

Using its rapid aircraft payload deployment system, L-3 has designed the Spydr II to be capable of carrying 26 different sensors beneath its fuselage; also including foliage penetrating, ground/dismount moving target indication and maritime search radars. It also can be configured to carry a pair of light detection and ranging payloads to conduct 3D mapping work.

A Viewpoint mission management system enables the operator to cross-cue multiple sensors, for example combining synthetic aperture radar and EO/IR imagery.

L-3’s director tactical ISR Brian Solomon says the external sensor package can typically be removed within 2-3h, enabling the surveillance type to be flown into a theatre of operations in an inconspicuous, “slick” configuration as its mission equipment is transported aboard a transport aircraft.

“Our goal is to sell the aircraft to military allies, and potentially for customs and border patrol,” says Koziol. “This is marketable now.”

Meanwhile, Koziol says L-3 is investigating the potential to add under-wing hardpoints for weapons carriage, and next year will begin looking at the integration of systems such as Raytheon’s lightweight Griffin weapon system.

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