Ales will also be essential to the Multi-Domain Operations-focused Gray Eagle 25M

General Atomics recently tested a new survivable Air-Launched Effect (ALE) known as Eaglet during a flight demonstration at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. This test marks a significant advancement in unmanned aerial system (UAS) technology, specifically for the U.S. Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) drone. The Eaglet ALE, jointly funded by GA-ASI and the U.S. Army’s DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and Aviation & Missile Center (AvMC), represents a new era of versatile, low-cost, and survivable UAS capabilities.

Development and Technical Specifications

First revealed in 2021, Eaglet was detailed further during the 2022 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. Weighing less than 200 pounds with a wingspan of 10.5 feet when deployed, Eaglet is designed for flexibility and performance. It can achieve a maximum airspeed of 115 knots and has a range of about 435 miles or eight hours of flight time. Eaglet carries a payload between 20 and 30 pounds and operates at a maximum service ceiling of approximately 15,000 feet. Its design features low observability, enhancing its survivability in contested environments.

Capabilities and Deployment

The Eaglet ALE can be launched from various platforms, including the Gray Eagle, rotary-wing aircraft, and ground vehicles. This versatility extends the reach of sensors and increases lethality while providing enhanced survivability for manned aircraft. The Eaglet fits into the ALE’s large category, capable of carrying a diverse range of payloads to support multiple Army missions.

Eaglet can operate both independently and in conjunction with other long-range payloads carried by Gray Eagles, helicopters, or other platforms. This flexibility supports deep sensing in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) and contributes to advanced teaming command-and-control capabilities. Future exercises with the Department of Defense (DoD) will further explore its potential.

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Gray Eagle 25M Modernization

The first flight test of Eaglet was conducted with a standard Gray Eagle, but a new upgraded variant, Gray Eagle 25M, is under development. This modernized UAS enhances the current flagship medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft with significant upgrades focused on internal components. These upgrades aim to reduce time and cost requirements while improving interoperability and combat capability.

Key features of the Gray Eagle 25M include:

  • Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) for rapid integration of advanced payloads and communication equipment.
  • Advanced datalinks and an upgraded propulsion system.
  • Increased onboard electrical power.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities for onboard “edge processing.”

These enhancements enable faster sensor-to-shooter timelines, reduce datalink bandwidth requirements, and increase range and resiliency.

Enhanced Combat Capabilities

The Gray Eagle 25M’s capabilities include Detection, Identification, Location, and Reporting (DILR), expediting decision-making processes for soldiers and commanders. Traditionally, UAS collect intelligence and transmit it to human operators or a central location. However, with the 25M upgrade, much of this collection, assessment, and action can occur onboard in real time.

Additionally, the Gray Eagle 25M will support Manned-UnManned Teaming (MUM-T) operations, enhancing capabilities for both AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters and future Army aircraft. The UAS will act as both a communication node and an electronic intelligence collector, leveraging advanced sensors like the Eagle Eye radar.

Future Prospects and ALE Integration

The integration of Air-Launched Effects (ALEs) into the Gray Eagle 25M will revolutionize battlefield operations. ALEs will provide scalable effects to detect, locate, disrupt, decoy, or deliver lethal effects against threats. The UAS will employ multiple ALEs, including the heavily tested ALTIUS 600, enhancing its ability to sense and affect the battlespace.

In summary, the successful testing of the Eaglet ALE and the development of the Gray Eagle 25M mark significant advancements in UAS technology. These innovations promise to enhance the U.S. Army’s capabilities in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat, ensuring a tactical and operational edge in future conflicts.

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