General Atomics' Gray Eagle combat drone launched an 'Eaglet' for the very first time. Eaglet has a span of 10.5 feet, weighs less than 200 pounds, and has a maximum airspeed of 115 knots. It has a range of about 700 kilometers (435 miles), or about eight hours, and can carry a payload of between 20 and 30 pounds. The test launch comes when the US military has invariably focused on preparing for combat in contested airspaces.
At the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, a General Atomics Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) made its airborne debut during a demonstration. The air-launched effect, or ALE, that the company that develops the Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system for the American Army calls “Eaglet.”
Gray Eagle can carry Eaglet for tens of thousands of kilometres before deploying it, according to General Atomics.
Eaglet was launched in December from a US Army-owned Gray Eagle Extended Range UAS as part of a project supported jointly by the service’s Combat Capabilities Development Army Research Laboratory and Aviation & Missile Center, according to a statement issued by General Atomics on January 31.
The next-generation enhanced Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) variant of the combat-tested Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
This drone carries out long-duration UAS surveillance, communications relay, and weapon delivery missions in support of the warfighter. Eaglet’s launch from such a system will increase this capabilities.
US Gray Eagle Launches ‘Eaglet’ Drone
The test launch takes place at a time when the US military has consistently concentrated on getting ready for battle in contested airspaces. Due to the air defence capabilities developed by its foes, the US combat drones’ days of unrestricted use are ended. These drones gathered vital intelligence and poured down damage on adversaries.
The US military first suggested the idea of ALE for this reason a few years ago. The US is working to create a family of smaller drones that can be launched from larger manned or unmanned aircraft and can cooperate or swarm. This effort is part of a larger strategy.
The Eaglet from General Atomics might be quite useful in this situation. However, this is not the first time the Gray Eagle drone, which is combat-tested, has launched ALE. For the Army’s Edge event at Dugway in 2021, L3Harris developed the drone that launched ALE.
The system that took part in the event can fly at speeds of more than 200 knots and has a range of more than 300 kilometres.
Even though information about the brand-new Eaglet is still lacking, earlier reports have provided some specifics on its ALE characteristics. The propeller-driven Eaglet has a maximum airspeed of 115 knots, a span of 10.5 feet, weighs less than 200 pounds, and has pop-out wings that may be expanded.
It can travel for around eight hours and 700 kilometres (435 miles) on a single charge, with a payload of 20 to 30 pounds. At its highest point, its service ceiling is around 15,000 feet.
The Eaglet, as previously said, aims to enable the now-vulnerable legacy drone fleet to continue providing surveillance and striking capabilities while keeping securely out of the reach of hostile anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons. The US Army has had significant success using the Gray Eagle in combat.
This is essential since there are still rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and because numerous military analysts believe that a war between the US and China could break out within a few years. The US Pacific Air Force Commander General Kenneth Wilsbach confirmed China’s A2/AD capabilities in one of his contacts last year, making them well-known throughout the world.
He stated that using “attritable” unmanned aircraft against China rather than advanced stealth fighters like the F-35 or F-22 would be much more acceptable. It is also important to remember that the military is aiming for sophisticated unmanned aircraft that can be frequently deployed and, ideally, never be shot down.
A Gray Eagle ER carrying four Eaglets is flying an ISR mission close to active hostilities, C. Mark Brinkley, Senior Director Strategic Communications & Marketing for General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, said last year. The UAS can deploy its Eaglets into hostile airspace, where they can cooperate to increase the host UAS’s sensing range, offer choices for electronic or kinetic warfare, or simply disrupt an enemy aircraft.
The US ALE drones, which may be fired by other unmanned systems far from the protective shield of opposing air defence, may end up changing the course of battle.
As the US works diligently on a manned-unmanned teaming concept to negotiate contested airspaces, this becomes crucial.
Not only that, but military authorities and analysts in the United States have underlined that developing a fleet of drones or other less expensive aircraft could be the best course of action in the event of conflict with a heavily fortified foe like China.
This is also demonstrated by the Skyborg Program that it has started.
The ALE is “designed to be a low-cost, survivable UAS with the versatility to be launched from a Gray Eagle, rotary-wing aircraft, or ground vehicles,” General Atomics President David Alexander stated in the release regarding the Eaglet. He continued, “It allows for improved lethality and sensor reach while maintaining manned aircraft survivability.”
The Eaglet will next take part in additional drills to help evaluate its capabilities. An initial capability refinement document for ALE was authorised by Army Futures Command, the body in charge of modernising the Army, in the fall of 2019.
Eaglet is designed to be a low-cost, resilient [unmanned air system] that can take off from a Gray Eagle, a rotary-wing aircraft, or ground vehicles. It gives sensors a wider field of view and increases their lethality while giving manned aircraft survival.
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