Aerovironment has confirmed that the US Special Operations Command-sponsored Global Observer joint capability technology demonstration (JCTD) programme using the company’s Global Observer hydrogen-powered UAV will include assessment of psychological operations roles for high-altitude long-endurance platforms.

The Global Observer JCTD psyops element will be based on the use of broadcast technologies from altitude, says Ted Wierzbanowski, director of strategic initiatives at Aerovironment. He declines to provide further details.

The JCTD is at the contract negotiation phase, with first flights to take place 18 months after award. It will include a military and a civil utility component says Wierzbanowski. The military aspects will focus on provision of sustained imagery intelligence over a limited footprint area and performance of communications relay roles.
“It has got an EO/IR sensor on it and communications equipment that can talk to a ground commander and two ground teams, so he can take the information coming off the sensor and move it to these ground teams. [It is a] very specific mission, very specific to unblinking eye over a point.”

The UAV would cruise at around 100kt (185km/h) and orbit around a 10km (5.4nm) radius. This will see the UAV flying a constant 5° turn bank profile, Wierzbanowski says.

The communications demonstration will see the EO/IR suite replaced by a multiband relay suite. “One of the beauties of that is that it is not just communications relay to people on the ground. We are also looking at moving data from Predator, moving data from Global Hawk, using this as a node for moving data around the battlefield so that you do not have to rely on satellite communications.”

The civil utility element of the JCTD is still being scoped, but will potentially again include communications relay operations, provision of wide area broadband internet services, as well as airborne imaging, weather tracking and disaster relief operations.

Wierzbanowski confirms that Aerovironment will not pursue a prime contractor role on the US Navy broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) requirement. Instead the firm is continuing to look at possible teaming arrangements with the Northrop Grumman and the Lockheed Martin - General Atomics Aeronautical Systems bids, or a separate role with the USN as a communications enabler.

“We are not officially playing in BAMS, but BAMS is going to need communications relay. How are they going to get communications relay? It is either going to be through satellite or some other capability for moving data around so some time in the future when the communications relay requirement becomes a little bit more known – the aeroplane is a very good answer to that requirement, and cheaper.”

Aerovironment is also looking at a possible role as a communications services provider to support the planned Royal Australian Air Force’s own BAMS acquisition. The company is in talks with a potential teaming partner in that country to allow it to participate in that nation’s BAMS industry capability partner competition, tenders for which were released on 14 March and will close on 15 May

Wierzbanowski says that development of a commercial market for aircraft in the Global Observer class based on the provision of services remains under assessment by the company. He says that current concepts are based on having a global constellation of platforms operating from five sites spread around the world with the company currently seeking co-operation partners for the initiative.

A commercially available service could be available in the Asia-Pacific region “in three to four years to do very specific missions”. However, the biggest hurdle to that plan is US releasability policy. The company needs co-operation partners to help it press its case with the US State Department to ensure the initiative proceeds he says.