The modern battlefield is an ever-changing landscape that looks very little like the battlefields of earlier generations. How Operations Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom were fought and the overall results of the conflicts in terms of casualties is evidence of a shift in strategy. Total casualty counts from OIF were in the sub-5,000 range for a war we have been engaged in for nearly a decade.
Largely because of much better intelligence gathering and dissemination. And this was in 2003, before the iPad or iPhone even existed; imagine what technological improvements hold for the aerial ISR community.
ARTEMIS: A Leidos Operation
The latest tool in the Army’s aerial ISR toolbox isn’t actually theirs at all. The ARTEMIS platform is completely privately owned and operated. Instead, it is owned and operated by the prominent defense contractor Leidos. This was a project that Leidos had taken from the cradle to the grave to provide an ISR asset for the U.S. Army to close ranks on areas where they had some blind spots.
The current iteration is actually the ARTEMIS II, the next generation of ISR-as-a-service aircraft, evolving from the original ARTEMIS I platform. According to Leidos, the ARTEMIS program was envisioned and delivered as a technology demonstration platform but has now fully integrated into the Army’s aerial playbook. ARTEMIS was purpose-built to fly higher than the other Army ISR platforms, which were all built on medium-altitude propeller-driven aircraft, and to have a longer loiter time. While turboprops have their place and are well-suited for many tasks, when you’re using an aircraft for fires support, there is no substitute for altitude.
Special Mission Aircraft For Army ISR Work
There is a certain misnomer that all ISR work is the same, and any aircraft is replaceable by another with the ISR moniker. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Can a C-130 replace a C-5? Of course not.
Well, one ISR asset differs from the next. Leidos understands this and is building out ISR platforms made to conform to specific purposes instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, where the asset really does nothing well because it’s trying to do everything; Leidos is building out its platforms from the ground up, selecting aircraft that work well for one specific mission. Instead of adopting the C-12 or C-26 because they are available and wonderful in their own rights, they chose a super-midsize business class jet that could handle the payload from a safe altitude, and provide excellent loiter time (much the same reasons the U.S. Air Force selected the Global 6500 for the E-11A program). There are some missions where a 25,000’ cap and six-hour loiter time are not acceptable parameters.
Using The Bombardier Challenger 650 For ISR Missions
The Bombardier Challenger 650 is another fantastic offering from the Canadian aerospace giant that has been used successfully for several ISR platforms worldwide. Since it is a proven and reliable aircraft with an excellent track record and a robust supply chain, it is a natural selection for future ISR missions. According to the Army, the current fleet of Guardrail aircraft is getting long in the tooth, sourcing some parts from retired aircraft. This is hardly anything new; the boneyards are full of aircraft picked clean of useable parts. Considering the age of much of the fleet, especially the Air Force, many companies that made parts for their aircraft have long been out of business. But we understand the problem. Planning for a mission built around aircraft with no parts is hard. And the Guardrail program is no spring chicken; the program turns 52 this year.
What Exactly Is the Mission?
ARTEMIS aims to take on missions that are currently being conducted by three different ISR platforms:
The mission is multifaceted but includes deep sensing of enemy communications and providing targeting for fires support. The Guardrail system is a Cold War-era legacy system built to provide indicators and warnings about enemy movements in European and Asia-Pacific theaters. The Army has revamped Guardrail many times and provides signals, communications, and electronic intelligence for combatant commanders. There is currently a fleet of 12 aircraft, and while ARTEMIS is an exciting step, it is likely to only replace Guardrail for a while.
ARTEMIS Sense and Targets for Fires
Fires, or artillery and rocket systems, were blind for decades, carpeting entire battlefields with explosions and horrifying shrapnel. But fires have evolved radically and are far more precise than before. However, they need accurate guidance to reduce collateral damage. The Guardrail aircraft is one of the targeting assets, but they have serious restrictions. For one thing, altitude. To effectively cover a wide area, you need to link multiple aircraft to form a mesh using Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). But there are other concerns, namely airspace congestion and, of course, supporting fires in general, considering the arc and trajectory of rockets and artillery. Altitude is better. But the other benefit besides altitude is reach. A Challenger 650 can cruise about 12,000’ higher than an RC-12X while operating on the same runways or pretty close to them, anyway. With a landing distance of only 2,402’ and a takeoff distance at MTOW of 5,640’, it can perform operations out of a vast swath of airports worldwide. The range is the real difference maker, especially when deploying assets.
Because of leg considerations, it can take up to a week for an RC-12 to travel from the Pacific theater of operations to Europe or the Middle East. But the Challenger 650 has far longer legs. A Challenger leaving Dubai can make London or Beijing with ease. If the aircraft leaves Dubai for the U.S., it can make it back stateside with only a single stop in England. This is a game-changer for combatant commanders who need the asset in theater in a matter of hours or a couple of days, not weeks.
Kinetic Vs. Non-kinetic Battlefield Assets
One question that has come up is why not just deploy an ISR asset that we already have, namely the EC-37B, an offshoot of the C-37 using the Gulfstream GV? It certainly has the range and the altitude, along with speed. But it is a non-kinetic platform used for disrupting communications, etc. They focused the ARTEMIS on kinetic threats, where the fires guidance comes in. Apples and oranges.
Fully Modular Workstations For Easy Conversions
Advances in modern technology have radically evolved ISR assets. What once took a large crew to conduct ISR work (a much smaller aircraft (Bombardier Global 6500 can replace the E-8 JSTARS) with a crew of only two pilots and no sensor operators. ARTEMIS should operate similarly, and they can remove the entire electronic suite and convert it to passenger use if need be. Another significant selling point is that they can swap the parts modules out at the Leidos maintenance shop from the AOR, have the work done, and be back in the AOR three days later.
The Army’s fixed-wing ISR assets have done a great job for a long time, but they are getting long in the tooth; 52 years is an exceptional service life. But aircraft improve, and electronics technology radically improves, and you can only do so many patches on an outdated aircraft before it is completely obsolete. However, it will take time to phase out the aging fleet of ISR aircraft, and they have to remain airworthy with a healthy supply chain. At Government Procurement, operated by Greenwood Aerospace, we will establish a healthy logistics chain for your project, whether it’s a brand-new ISR asset or an aging warhorse. Whatever your needs, we will talk with you and see how our services can best serve your mission!