Earlier this month, the California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) passed a significant milestone when it undertook the first flight of a preproduction Sky Warrior unmanned vehicle. This event came just days before the company’s Reconnaissance Systems Group won an important contract to supply intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) suites that will be installed in Iraqi air force manned surveillance platforms.
Sky Warrior is a derivative of the well-known MQ-1 Predator operated by the U.S. Air Force over Iraq and Afghanistan, tasked with providing ISR, plus an attack capability. The Sky Warrior was developed from the MQ-1 in response to the U.S. Army’s Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) unmanned aircraft system requirement. Compared with the Predator, Sky Warrior for the Army has a heavy fuel engine (HFE) that allows it to cruise above 29,000 feet, and a larger antenna fairing in the forward fuselage. Sky Warrior also has a triple-redundant avionics system and expanded weapons capability.
General Atomics’ company-owned Block 0 preproduction machine made its first flight from the company’s El Mirage flight operations facility on June 6, achieving all its stated objectives. GA-ASI’s Aircraft Systems Group president, Thomas Cassidy, reported “flawless performance” Further Block 0 vehicles will be produced and will be deployed to Southwest Asia for an appraisal in combat conditions in early 2008. The U.S. Army already operates the General Atomics I-Gnat ER, which has been serving in Iraq since early 2004.
GA-ASI not only builds unmanned air vehicles, but also has a Reconnaissance Systems Group that develops and manufactures sensor and control systems for both manned and unmanned platforms. On June 11 the group was awarded a contract by Raytheon to supply five ISR suites for the Raytheon/Beechcraft King Air 350ERs being supplied to the Iraqi air force under a U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. The contract has a ceiling price of $53 million.
According to the group’s president, Linden Blue, “This program for Iraq represents a total end-to-end ISR solution. It integrates the airborne payload package with an operator console station that collects, formats and displays sensor data for optimum exploitation. Imagery and exploitation products can then be sent via an airborne datalink to ground stations for further analysis.”
The King Airs are being supplied to allow the Iraqi air force to assume greater control of the ISR mission within the country. Each aircraft will be equipped with Lynx IIE SAR/GMTI radar.