General Atomics and Air Force Special Operations Advance with A2E Concept Demonstrations

In December 2023, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) conducted a series of demonstrations to advance the Adaptive Airborne Enterprise (A2E) concept.

A demonstration involved the simultaneous control of three MQ-9A remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) by a single crew using the AFSOC RPA Control Suite (ARCS). This technological advancement allows a standard crew to manage multiple UAS platforms from a single workstation, marking a step forward in operational efficiency and reducing manpower requirements.

Another notable demonstration featured an MQ-9A successfully launching an Altius 600 from a launch pod, further emphasizing the versatility and capability of the MQ-9A platform in executing complex missions.

David R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI, highlighted the partnership with AFSOC, stating, “We know our RPA will be a key building block for AFSOC to achieve its A2E vision.” This collaboration underlines GA-ASI’s commitment to supporting AFSOC’s strategic objectives through innovative UAS technology.

AFSOC’s acquisition of MQ-9B aircraft from GA-ASI for rapid prototyping signifies a departure from traditional Ground Control Stations (GCS) to leverage the ARCS for controlling both MQ-9A and MQ-9B, along with a family of small UAS. This integration demonstrates ARCS’s capability to manage diverse platforms and lays the groundwork for future integration efforts, including the MQ-9B aircraft.

Colonel Trey Olman of AFSOC commented on the importance of these demonstrations in realizing the A2E concept, “This was the first time we were able to demonstrate control of multiple RPAs from a single workstation, which is important in reducing manpower requirements.”

The demonstrations took place at Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Air Force Range in New Mexico, employing Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Launch & Recovery (SLR). The execution involved launching three MQ-9As using GA-ASI’s Portable Aircraft Control Stations (PACS) and GCS. Subsequently, control was transitioned from individual GCS to a single ARCS workstation and back, demonstrating the Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) of the MQ-9A aircraft.

The A2E concept envisions leveraging a family of large, unmanned aircraft along with small, expendable UAS to project air power from beyond the horizon, across a spectrum of operational environments. The MQ-9B is identified as an ideal platform for air-launched effects, embodying the range, endurance, and flexibility crucial for the future landscape of advanced UAS systems within AFSOC’s operational framework.