The U.S. Army has been flying a special-mission Bombardier Challenger 650 as part of the NATO surveillance effort monitoring the build-up and subsequent operations of Russian forces in and around Ukraine. Known as the Leidos Special Mission Aircraft (LSMA), the Challenger technology demonstrator is outfitted with the Aerial Reconnaissance and Targeting Exploitation Multi-Mission Intelligence System (ARTEMIS).
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin began deploying forces to regions surrounding Ukraine, NATO has stepped up its surveillance activities. The brunt of the effort has been borne by Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic intelligence-gatherers from both the U.S. Air Force and the UK’s Royal Air Force, flying from Mildenhall and Waddington in England, USAF Lockheed U-2s also flying from England, and by USAF Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned platforms operating from Sigonella, Sicily.
U.S. Army aerial surveillance assets involved include Beechcraft RC-12K Guardrail aircraft flying from Siauliai in Lithuania, and the ARTEMIS Challenger, which is operating from Constanta International Airport in Romania. The latter has been operating in Europe for some months, and has flown numerous missions during February.
The aircraft’s routing—as seen on civilian flight-tracking websites—has taken it north into Polish airspace, from where its sensors can peer into western Ukraine and Belarus. This route was flown on February 24, the first day of the major Russian attack on Ukraine. At the same time, an RQ-4 was flying an orbit over the Black Sea to the south of Odessa, having earlier set up a patrol pattern over eastern Ukraine close to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and an RC-135W was in an orbit over Poland. Also in the same area was a Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint STARS ground surveillance aircraft.
Leidos began the development of the LSMA in 2019 as a technology demonstrator for a potential candidate to replace the U.S. Army’s RC-12 Guardrail fleet, the move to a business jet platform offering significantly increased range, operating altitude, onboard power, and payload capacity. ARTEMIS is a plug-and-play mission suite that can be rapidly reconfigured to meet mission requirements. The aircraft is believed to be fitted with electronic intelligence (Elint) sensors and a side-looking radar that can track ground vehicles. The U.S. Army's description of the aircraft's role notes that it "provides high-altitude sensing capabilities against near-peer adversaries and bridges gaps in the Multi-Domain Operations mission." Demonstrations have been conducted in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific since mid-2020, and in summer 2021 the aircraft was deployed again to Europe for an exercise and is believed to have remained in the theater since.
Recent years have seen a growing trend in transferring special mission suites and roles to business jets from larger jet platforms and smaller twin-prop aircraft, including the Saab GlobalEye airborne early warning aircraft and the E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN). In August last year, L3 Harris flew its Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES) demonstrator, based on the Bombardier Global 6500. ARES is intended to explore similar roles to the ARTEMIS, albeit in a larger airframe.