Tag Archives: MQ-9

Textron Scorpion Collaborates with U.S. AFRL on AgilePod Program

In an encounter that could be described, “AgilePod meets AgilePlatform” the USAF AgilePod was recently fitted to a Textron Aviation Defense LLC Scorpion jet.

The test fitment took place December 21, 2017 at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright-Patterson AFB. The event showcased both the versatility of the AgilePod and the Scorpion. According to a USAF news release, Andrew Soine, an electronic systems engineer at AFRL commented, “We met with the Textron Aviation Defense Scorpion team and discussed the possibility of doing a fit check with their Scorpion platform and the AgilePod. A few days later they called and said they could get the plane to Wright-Patterson within the week. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to show the AgilePod’s capabilities on a new class of aircraft.”

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Air Force Research Laboratory’s AgilePod is shown mounted on the wing of the Textron Aviation Defense’s Scorpion Light Attack/ISR jet. The AgilePod is an Air Force-trademarked, multi-intelligence reconfigurable pod that enables flight-line operators to customize sensor packages based on specific mission needs. A fit check held late December, 2017, provided an opportunity to demonstrate the ability of the pod to rapidly integrate onto a new platform with short notice, highlighting the benefits of Sensor Open Systems Architecture. (Air Force photo by David Dixon/released)

The Air Force AgilePod program, ran by the AFRL Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian team completed inflight testing on a DC-3 this past summer and is pending test flights on an MQ-9 Reaper. The AgilePod prototype utilizes an Open Missions System (OMS) modular software architecture and a modular physical configuration of 28 – 60 inches in length that can house a variety of ISR sensor payloads. It may be conceivable that configurations include communication nodes to enable 4th Gen to 5th Gen data sharing for using data as a weapon in the “combat cloud”.

The AgilePod is designed to be flightline configurable while deployed at forward locations to enable maximum support of the warfighter. It is a description that sounds remarkably like the Scorpion, itself utilizing a modular open system architecture (MOSA) and featuring exceptional physical modularity in its payload bay for ISR/Communication payloads.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Air Force Research Laboratory’s AgilePod is shown mounted on the wing of the Textron Aviation Defense’s Scorpion Light Attack/ISR jet. The AgilePod is an Air Force-trademarked, multi-intelligence reconfigurable pod that enables flight-line operators to customize sensor packages based on specific mission needs. A fit check in late December 2017 provided an opportunity to demonstrate the ability of the pod to rapidly integrate onto a new platform with short notice, highlighting the benefits of Sensor Open Systems Architecture. (Air Force photo by David Dixon/released)

The AgilePod initiative is a good example of an ongoing program that fits within the messaging from the leadership of the Air Force — Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff General David Goldfein, and the entire command structure. Such direction was captured by Wilson at the OA-X demonstration this past summer at Holloman AFB, “Our adversaries are modernizing faster than we are and it is up to the USAF to drive innovation so that our adversaries are surprised by just how powerful we are and how ready we are for any fight, anytime, anywhere. That means we have to think about things in new ways and identify new capabilities faster than we have done in the past.” The Air Force will utilize OMS and rapid, cost-effective innovation to drive superior capability in the face of global challenges.

Utilizing the Scorpion for AgilePod integration may seem like an odd fit – given the Scorpion’s capability to internally carry what would amount to similar sensors and communication payloads. However, the collaboration between AFRL and Textron Aviation Defense is not intended to validate the Scorpion with the AgilePod, but rather to validate the fitment of the AgilePod on a light jet in a rapid, and cost-effective manner.

Given this first step, the USAF and AFRL may consider flight testing and ultimately demonstrating the integration of the AgilePod “streaming data” into the Scorpion’s own open mission system to designate targets for engagement with precision weapons from the host platform. Streaming ISR data to a ground station has appeal, as does streaming to additional airborne platforms and manned, tactically relevant assets in the combat cloud.
The Scorpion’s low operating cost, OMS, ease of support and flight operations would appear to be a sound fit for further validation of the AgilePod. The Scorpion demonstrates this capability on a consistent basis, such as the recent transit made overseas to the Dubai Air Show. During transit the Scorpion visited nine countries in six days with 100% readiness. During demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) pilots and weapons system officers designated targets by laser and dropped inert GBU-12s on target after only 2 hours of ground instruction and 15 minutes of flight!

The Mini-AgilePod, conceptualized here, will be designed with an open floor plan and reconfigurable middle sections in various sizes that can be changed depending on specific sensor technologies and missions. The resulting family of AgilePod platforms will be able to host optimized sensors and fit an increased number of aircraft. (U.S. Air Force graphic/David Dixon)

According to Steve Burke, Textron Aviation Defense Senior Advisor, the opportunity to collaborate with the AFRL on this initiative demonstrates Scorpion’s additional capabilities, “not only does the Scorpion have great capability within itself to integrate ISR/Communication payloads, but this fit check demonstrated how quickly the aircraft can integrate a defined Air Force ISR payload with little-to-no change in its existing OMS software.” Further collaboration could demonstrate the Scorpion’s capability to fly with and tactically integrate the AgilePod to demonstrate getting to the “future faster”, a priority for General Mike Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command.

Like any development program, questions remain. What platforms will ultimately utilize the externally mounted AgilePod? Will Textron’s “AgilePlatform” be a fit for the U.S. or other Air Force as a dedicated ISR/Light Attack platform that drives tremendous operational savings?

Given the clear direction to “network enabled information dominance” both approaches appear promising. Innovations in technology have many systems obsolete by the time they are fielded. Approaches that provide the desired capability while demonstrating modularity and scalability have great appeal – to deploy near term, and remain relevant in the future at a manageable cost.

Photos and Graphic, USAF David Dixon/released.

This is how Italian Tornado jets and Predator drones will contribute to the war on ISIS

Along with the KC-767s, already supporting the coalition forces with an aerial refueling capability, Rome has committed four Tornado IDS and two Predator drones to the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The Italian Air Force is about to move four Tornado IDS attack planes, belong to the 6° Stormo, from Ghedi airbase, to Kuwait, to join the US-led coalition that is fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. According to DefenseNews, the aircraft are going to be based at Ahmed Al Jaber air base in Kuwait, the same country where Rome has deployed one of its brand new KC-767 tankers.

The aircraft will not be used to perform air strikes (although they could join the raids at a later stage as happened to the AMX in Afghanistan), but will perform reconnaissance mission: a role the Tornados have already undertook in Libya and Afghanistan.

For this kind of mission, the aircraft usually carry a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod: the Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes.


The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.

The pod can also be carried by the AMX ACOL, the light tactical jet that has performed close air support/air interdiction and ISR missions in support of ISAF from 2009 until the summer of 2014.

Also based in Kuwait are two MQ-1C Predator A+ from Amendola airbase, that are tasked with ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in Iraq.

The Italian Air Force operates a mixed force of 6 MQ-9 Reaper and 6 MQ-1C Predator both assigned to the 28° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing).

The Italian UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) have already operated in Iraq between January 2005 and 2006 when the first RQ-1 Predator A was deployed to Tallil airbase, in Iraq.
Later, two Predator A+ (designated MQ-1C A+ a standard to which all the former RQ-1 were upgraded) were deployed to Herat, in Afghanistan, to perform a wide array of missions: mainly MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation), support to TIC (Troops In Contact), IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) monitoring and Convoy Escort.

The Italian unarmed drones will probably be involved in High Value Target surveillance and Reconnaissance (and, maybe special ops support).


Although it was not disclosed, most probably Predators will be employed in Iraq as they were employed in Afghanistan: in accordance with the so-called Remote Split Operations (RSO). During RSO, aircraft is launched from a local, in theater airbase, under direct line-of-sight control of the local MGCS (Mobile Ground Control Station).

Then, by means of satellite data link, it is taken on charge and guided from Amendola. When the assigned mission is completed, it is once again handed over to a pilot in Afghanistan, who lands it back to Herat airbase. The 1-second delay introduced by the satellite link is not compatible with the most delicate phases of flight; hence, aircraft are launched and recovered in line-of-sight by the deployed MCGS (US drones use the same kind of remote control).


NASA's Ikhana MQ-9 drone flies with ADS-B equipment for the first time

On Mar. 15, for the first time ever at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center a Ikhana MQ-9 unmanned aircraft (modified Reaper) flew with an Automated Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B transponder.

It was the first time that an unmanned aircraft the size of the Ikhana with its 66 foot wingspan and 10,000 pounds take off weight has flown using the aircraft tracking device that all aircraft operating in certain U.S. airspace will have to adopt by 2020 to comply with New Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.

The tests were part of a project named UAS in the NAS which is shortened for the full name of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System.

NASA launched the Ikhana from Dryden and flew it over the Western Aeronautical Test Range, which forms part of Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center. This first flight took some three hours and the new equipment was found to have performed well: the ADS-B enabled NASA the ability to gain much more detailed information which would in theory be given to Air Traffic Controllers and airborne pilots in other aircraft equipped with ADS-B flying with the vicinity of the UAV (even if, currently, only air traffic controllers can see all the aircraft broadcasting ADS-B data in a given part of the sky).

Indeed, the ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information can be received by ground stations, by other nearby aircraft  enhancing situational awareness.

This first flight of the ADS-B equipped Ikhana is the first in many planned flights to gain data whilst doing simulated real world tasks. During this first flight and as part of a collaborative effort, FAA’s William J Hughes Technical Centre in Atlantic City, N.J recorded the ADS-B data and will help NASA analyse the performance and accuracy of the system fitted in the aircraft.

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Mini-Drones, SAMP/T, Storm Shadow and a Lotus "Evora" at the Italian Armed Forces Day

The Italian Armed Forces Day exhibition, held each year in Rome inside the Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo), always provides an interesting opportunity for a close look at the most interesting equipments of the four Armed Forces [Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), Marina Militare (Italian Navy), Esercito Italiano (Italian Army), and Carabinieri (Military Police)], and of the Italian Armed Corps, as the Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) and the Guardia di Fin

Behind the Scenes: What It's Like Inside a Predator Drone Control Station

Once closely guarded military secrets, remotely operated Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are now widely known to play a vital role in modern wars. But even while most people recognize that UAS are extremely important, they usually don’t know how they are controlled and by whom.

TechNewsDaily was recently invited to take a rare behind-the-scenes tour of a UAS ground control station in Italy that is jointly shared by the Italian and U.S. air forces to demystify some of the operations of these robot warrior aircraft.

A new breed of fighters

UAS are able to silently fly for 20 or more hours deep inside enemy territory; can carry a wide array of sensors, radars and even weapons to identify or attack time-sensitive targets; and, above all, they are “expendable” because they are controlled from a remote Ground Control Station by pilots who fly them in the same way you might fly a virtual plane in a flight simulator game.

Drones have been supporting ground troops, helping them to identify suspect activity and to prevent IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. More recently, they were dispatched to attack Gaddafi forces in Libya, and also played a vital role in Operation Neptune’s Spear in Pakistan, where they helped monitor Osama bin Laden’s compound prior to the Navy Seals raid that resulted in the al-Qaida leader’s death.

A UAS consists of four main components: the remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), its sensors, its Mobile Ground Control Station (MGCS), and its data link and communication suite. That’s why the term UAS, which describes the whole system, is preferred to UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).

There are several types of remotely piloted vehicles in operation, but with a combat debut dating back to the ‘90s in the Balkans, and several years of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, the General Atomics Predator has become the primary and most famous U.S. unmanned platform.

Other nations have recognized the importance of the UAS as well. Among them, Italy used its first RQ-1A Predators in Iraq from 2004 to 2006 and later deployed them in Afghanistan, where they have logged more than 7,000 hours of flight since 2007. The Italian Air Force (ItAF) is also equipped with the first two of six ordered examples of the most advanced Predator B (known as the MQ-9 “Reaper” in the U.S.), which has an improved internal and external payload, is able to fly at higher altitudes and could soon be used to boost NATO ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities in Libya.


In order to understand how Predators operate, we visited the MGCS located at the Amendola airbase in southeast Italy. The Amendola airbase is home to the 28 Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32 Stormo (Wing), which manages the entire Italian UAS force and remotely controls drones of the Task Group “Astore” performing ISR missions, convoy escorts, and special operations in Afghanistan. The technologies and procedures used by the ItAF and USAF are very similar, with the main difference being Italian Predators don’t currently carry missiles or bombs.

The aircraft operates with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna, while over-the-horizon communication is achieved via satellite link. Both control modes can be used during the same mission.


[Read the rest of my article (with picture gallery) on Tech News Daily]