General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) announced on January 6 that it will modify two company-owned Avenger remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) to serve as testbeds for the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) Skyborg Vanguard programme.
The announcement comes after the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) selected GA-ASI, Boeing and Kratos Defense to further participate in the Skyborg Vanguard project in December 2020. The programme seeks to develop a foundation on which the USAF can build a family of low-cost, force multiplying, attritable unmanned aircraft systems that are capable of performing manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) operations.
As part of its contribution, GA-ASI will modify two of its Avenger RPA with upgraded datalinks and the core Skyborg Design Agent (SDA) software, as well as other undisclosed payloads. These aircraft will then be used in a series of experimental flights, which will take place at GA-ASI’s flight centres in south California later this year and in 2022, respectively. During these tests, crewed aircraft will be able to control the Avengers while in flight and relaying specific information between both the manned and unmanned platforms.
David R Alexander, president of GA-ASI, said: “GA-ASI is excited to continue working with the air force to advance the Skyborg concept… The Avenger platform is a jet-powered, advanced RPA that is well understood and has undergone more than a decade of research and design. We have already shown its suitability as a next-generation host for advanced [artificial intelligence (AI)] software.
“This next phase of integration will combine the Skyborg software with GA-ASI hardware, in order to prove that a dynamic mix of manned and unmanned aircraft can communicate, collaborate and fight together,” he added.
GA-ASI states that its Avenger RPA is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney PW545B turbofan engine. The platform has a maximum speed of 460mph, a total endurance of 20 hours and a service ceiling of 50,000ft. The company also boasts that the multi-mission aircraft can be configured to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and precision strike missions over both land and sea domains.