Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

General Atomics has begun construction of a new combat drone

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jul2,2024

General Atomics started construction of a new combat drone

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has begun construction of its first unmanned aerial vehicle for the US Air Force's Joint Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, using components from the MQ-9 Reaper to accelerate development.

This was announced by Mike Atwood, vice president of Advanced Aviation Programs GA-ASI, on the latest episode of The Merge Podcast, which aired on June 29. The podcast also featured Dim Salmon, Vice President of Air Dominance and Strike at Anduril, who discussed the CCA program.

The Merge podcast is hosted by Mike Benitez, director of artificial intelligence products at Shield AI, a company that participates in the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a key participant in the CCA initiative.

GA-ASI and Anduril are currently in the initial phase of the CCA program, known as Step One, after being selected by the US Department of the Air Force in April. Both companies receive funding for the detailed design, production and testing of prototypes representing production.

GA-ASI is gathering its first CCA, Atwood said. He highlighted the company's ability to quickly go from awarding a contract to assembling an aircraft in less than 24 months. He attributed such rapid progress to General Atomics' extensive experience in the development and production of drones.

Atwood also noted that they have a “hot production line” where they can replace the MQ-9 with a joint combat aircraft. Using Reaper parts from their warehouses, they built the first CCA aircraft.

General Atomics is also preparing for the next generation of unmanned aerial systems as part of its work on the LongShot aircraft carrier program. , built around a common engine core, keel and chassis.

Anduril, a new entrant to the drone market founded in 2017, competes with its Fury project. In 2023, the company acquired Blue Force Technologies and its Fury drone development program. to combat aggressors.

Salmon did not disclose specific details about Anduril's progress in creating the first CCA prototype. She also mentioned the benefits of having an in-house composites shop, referring to Anduril's acquisition of Blue Force Technologies, which specializes in carbon fiber composites. Salmon also emphasized that achieving the first flight is a key goal for Anduril.

The Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) initiative aims to provide the US Air Force with “affordable mass” to counter the complex and growing threat from China. Since the US Air Force is unable to produce enough manned aircraft or train enough pilots to outmatch an adversary, CCAs are called upon to solve this problem.

This program provides a new approach to warfare, taking advantage of unmanned platforms to achieve greater operational scale. Discussions continue regarding the effectiveness, capabilities, costs, and production challenges associated with the initial phase of the CCA program.

The first generation of CCA will primarily carry additional munitions for manned fighters such as the F-35, F- 22 and the future fighter of the next generation “Air Dominance”.

Future iterations of the CCA can perform more complex missions such as electronic warfare, surveillance and air combat. However, their primary function will be to enhance the combat capabilities of existing manned platforms.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that by the mid-2030s, the service plans to build between 1,000 and 2,000 CCAs, each costing about $30 million. the cost forecast is the upper limit of the initial estimates.

General Atomics' Mike Atwood emphasized the challenge of balancing cost, survivability and mission capability. He noted that previous unmanned combat aircraft (UAV) designs, such as Northrop Grumman's X-47 and Boeing's X-45, were not cost-effective for large-scale deployment.

The focus has shifted to smaller projects, such as Kratos' XQ-58 Valkyrie, but it was too small. Over the past six years, the US Air Force, in cooperation with other branches of the armed forces and DARPA, has been researching various unmanned and autonomous technologies.

Despite progress, issues of autonomous capability and trust remain key to the CCA program. Atwood spoke of early attempts to control unmanned systems using tablets, which proved difficult for pilots.

He emphasized the need for CCAs to intuitively support the fighter's intentions, whether entering, exiting, firing, jamming or operating in modes with controlled emissions, without increasing the load on the pilot.

Atwood also emphasized the importance of CCAs acting as advanced sensors and weapons for the pilot. This would expand their capabilities, eliminating the need for the pilot to worry about fuel, weapons and range.

He emphasized the need for self-aware cognitive autonomy, as simpler control methods during training were ineffective. The transition to autonomous systems involves a cultural shift toward trusting vehicles with rules of engagement (ROE).

Atwood noted that transitioning from test environments such as the Nevada Test Range to real-world combat evaluations is critical to establishing trust in these systems.

Dim Salmon agreed that deployment and the application of these systems must build trust based on experience. She added that extensive training and interaction with the systems is critical to their adoption.

Atwood suggested that General Atomics' CCA design could complement the “F’jury” Anduril, indicating that the Air Force can integrate the two systems to operate effectively. Such a joint approach can strengthen the overall capabilities of the CCA program and provide a robust response to emerging threats.

The full scope of the final CCA Increment One product, which includes specific autonomous and other capabilities, remains uncertain.

However, if the program proves successful, the CCAs could help restore the Air Force's combat power, which has been depleted by overuse and slower-than-expected procurement rates over the past 20 years. In addition, the program may encourage new companies to enter the Air Force base.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my natasha@thetimeshub.in 1-800-268-7116

Related Post