General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has conducted flight tests of its Sparrowhawk small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS), which is designed as a captive-carry system that can be launched from larger GA-ASI aerial platforms. Designed around the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System attritableONE technologies, the Sparrowhawk is an iteration of the DARPA Gremlins Program, which aims to develop airborne drone recovery to reduce the cost of operation and provide new mission capabilities.
The Sparrowhawk sUAS was attached to an MQ-9A unmanned aircraft, and controlled exclusively using GA-ASI’s Metis Software Defined Control Station. Metis was hosted on a laptop computer, which significantly reduced the system’s logistical footprint and supports the vision for battlefield UAV control interfaces that do not require a Ground Control Station shelter or vehicle.
The test team communicated with the Sparrowhawk meshONE datalink, enabling collaborative autonomy capabilities among both platforms. The Cooperation in Denied Environments (CODE) autonomy engine was also implemented in order to further trial cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing for unmanned systems.
These test flights follow on from those conducted with a Gray Eagle UAS that carried two Area-I Altius-600 Air Launched Effects (ALEs) during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) demonstrations.
Sparrowhawk and UAV airborne recovery also provide a range of other benefits:
- Below-the-weather ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and reduced visual and acoustic ISR
- Attritable ISR/EW (electronic warfare) in the contested environment, allowing the MQ-9 to stand off at safe ranges
- Use of larger and more expensive payloads at greater transit ranges compared to ground-launched aircraft and air-launched expendables
- Maintaining the chain of custody, through adverse weather, MQ-9 rotations, or with multiple targets
David R. Alexander, President of GA-ASI, commented: “Sparrowhawk extends and multiplies MQ-9-based sensors, reduces manpower and increases ISR coverage. With attritableONE technology that is survivable and precise, Sparrowhawk is a true game changer.”