The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded contracts to two US companies to make an unmanned ariel system (UAS) that can fly ahead of a fighter jet to act as its eyes, thereby extending the sensor range of the jet and providing better awareness to the pilot.
The AFRL awarded identical contracts of $17 million each to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and to Kratos to create Off-Board Sensing Station (OBSS) drones. These will be part of the low cost modular unmanned aircraft which can face attrition during conflict
It is planned to fly these drones alongside manned aircraft to help extend the aircraft’s sensing range and to also provide an additional weapons bay. The UAS will have a conventional take-off and landing.
The need for the US to develop it
The AFRL is developing an open architecture concept autonomous collaborative platform (ACP) to achieve its goals of low acquisition cost, while extending and enhancing the sensing volume of manned platforms.
The award covers the next 12 months as the base effort, and if the option is exercised, GA-ASI will spend the following 15 months manufacturing and flight demonstrating the aircraft with the award potentially growing to a total of $49 million, the GA website said read it here.
The General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems, Inc is an affiliate of General Atomics, is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator® RPA series and the Lynx Multi-mode Radar. With more than seven million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. The company also produces a variety of ground control stations and sensors
Kratos had a similar optimism to express on the issue
Kratos Ghost Works, has designed the OBSS system, it has once again demonstrated digital engineering process, methodology, assets, and infrastructure are optimized for affordable system development, the Kratos statement said. Read it here.
Why this tech for India
India faces a twin threat from Pakistan to its west and China to its north. It has a shortage of fighter jets and such a UAS would be ideal.
In 2020, India, as a stop-gap measure, leased two ‘Sky Guardian’ MQ-9B drones of the ‘Predator-B’ family produced by General Atomics. These are the same used by the US Navy.
This was clearly a bid by New Delhi to counter an increasingly assertive China at sea and also along the contested 3,488 kms of land borders between the two countries. The lease was for one year and is done as per ‘emergency purchase’ measures in force.
Leasing of drones is separate from the ongoing procurement case for getting 30 such drones from GA. India is looking at two variants, one for use over land the other for use over sea. Indian establishment is looking at the Predator-B series from General Atomics . Off the Predator-B series, India is studying the MQ9 Reaper and also the MQ9B-Sky Guardian. Indian authorities estimate the deal to be between $ 3.5 billion to $ 4 Billion, the figure could vary depending upon the configuration of the UAS chosen.
So will India also exercise having the low cost option of having a Off-Board Sensing Station (OBSS).