L-3 Communications CEO Michael Strianese has been urging the various divisions of this diverse defense systems and services group to collaborate more fruitfully. It also offers the manned Spydr ISR platform. A prime example of this has been L-3’s expansion into the unmanned air systems (UAS) sector, allowing it to offer more flexible platforms for its products in the fields of C3 ISR (command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and electronic systems.
The U.S.-based group can now fairly claim to be a fully integrated UAS platform provider, which better enables it to compete with other defense groups prominent in this field from North America, Europe and Israel. The largest member of its UAS family is the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) Mobius, which it has been demonstrating and developing since 2009.
However, Todd Gautier, president of L-3’s Precision Engagement Sector, told AIN that Mobius is not currently the group’s most immediate market prospect, with defense customer attention shifting to medium-altitude, smaller systems. “Mobius is ready to go [into service] but where we see the market right now is that U.S. forces are pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and so requirements for MALE [aircraft] will come down,” he said. “It is still a great hope for the future and, as we move away from the current war footing, the focus is more on the cost of systems. Mobius has always been a significant value play for customers because you get a lot for a very attractive price. It will become more successful.”
Viking 400 Main Focus
For now, the new Viking 400 mid-tier UAS that has evolved from an earlier platform with more than 10,000 flight hours in service is the main focus of L-3’s marketing efforts. “We see this as a truck,” said Gautier. “It’s highly capable and, in its class, offers significant payload and weight capacity. This is a real discriminator.”
Gautier maintains that L-3 has started to get some recognition in the highly competitive and very dynamic UAS sector by offering greater flexibility and adaptability for changing missions by having platforms that provide greater operational endurance and scope for expanding payload at competitive prices. Research-and-development efforts have focused on finding ways to adapt UAS fuselages and empennages in ways that allow different sensors to be fitted.
The main Viking 400 payload is the MX-10 EO/IR sensor with full-motion video (see main story). “It is a system for expeditionary forces and can take other payloads, allowing us to exploit the majority of mission areas,” said Gautier.
At the light end of the UAS sector, L-3’s portfolio was expanded by the acquisition a few years ago of Airborne Technologies Inc., a specialist in small, expendable systems. The only publicly displayed product in this line has been the Cutlass.
In budget-constrained times, part of L-3’s UAS research-and-development effort has been to make systems easier to operate and maintain, as well as more versatile through greater integration of systems and subsystems. Other work has focused on reducing the weight and power requirements of UASs so that smaller systems can do work that previously has been the domain of larger UAVs. There is also now a greater emphasis on interoperability of the systems carried by the UASs and other battlefield platforms–an approach made possible by greater use of common interfaces.