General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced with a press release that the company conducted captive carry Sparrowhawk Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) flight demonstrations on September 16-17, 2020. The Sparrowhawk aircraft is designed as an airborne launch and recovery demonstrator aircraft tailored to fit GA-ASI platforms and is focused on Advanced Battle Management System’s attritableONE technologies. Sparrowhawk iterates on the DARPA Gremlins Program to further airborne recovery of sUAS, reducing the cost of operation and enabling new mission capabilities to GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft.
The Sparrowhawk sUAS was carried on an MQ-9A and controlled exclusively using GA-ASI’s Metis Software-Defined Control Station hosted on a laptop computer, which drastically reduced the system’s logistical footprint and supports the vision for interfaces to the aircraft from across the battlefield — without the need for a Ground Control Station shelter or vehicle. Communications were achieved using a fielded meshONE datalink, enabling collaborative autonomy capabilities among the platforms. The Cooperation in Denied Environments (CODE) autonomy engine was implemented to further understand cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing for unmanned systems.
The test flights build on the capabilities demonstrated when Gray Eagle carried two Area-I Altius-600 Air Launched Effects (ALEs) during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) demonstrations, underscring GA-ASI’s commitment to expanding the capabilities of its aircraft. Sparrowhawk and airborne recovery also enable these benefits:
Allows below-the-weather ISR, and enables reduced visual and acoustic ISR
Enables attritable ISR/EW in the contested environment, allowing the MQ-9 to stand off at safe ranges
Employs larger and more expensive payloads at greater transit ranges compared to ground-launched aircraft and air-launched expendables
Maintains the chain of custody, through adverse weather, MQ-9 rotations, or with multiple targets.