Bombardier wins US military contract for new prototype spy plane

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has awarded a contract to Bombardier Defense to provide at least one Global 6500 aircraft for service as a prototype aircraft for a new spy plane programthe agency announced Wednesday.

The fixed-price contract, awarded on December 12, includes an option to purchase two additional aircraft over a three-year period. The delivery date of the first aircraft is set for October 1, the announcement noted.

The High Precision Detection and Exploitation System, or HADES, will be the first intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in the Army to use a large-cabin operational jet with advanced deep-sensing capabilities, according to the service.

The new aircraft will bring “increased range, speed, endurance and aerial [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] depth,” Col. Joe Minor, the Army’s fixed-wing aircraft project manager, said in the statement.

“HADES will operate at higher altitudes than traditional turboprop platforms. Higher altitudes equate to the ability to sense farther and more persistently into areas of interest,” he added. “Deep sensing is the Army’s number one operational imperative for the Army of 2030.”

The Army is renewing its aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare arsenals as it moves away from its aging Guardrail turboprops to better prepare for a potential large-scale conflict with Russia and China. The agency wants an airplane with much longer duration, speed and payload capacity that can see, detect and target threats from longer distances.

Leading up to the historic HADES program, the Army has built and extensively flown technology demonstrators. These spy planes have recorded nearly 1,000 exits in the European and Indo-Pacific theaters. Two more demonstrator aircraft are expected to be deployed in 2024.

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The agency built and deployed two aerial ISR demonstrations starting in 2020, known as Artemis and Ares. Artemis has flew more than 600 sorties in support of US European Command operations; Mars has flown 300 sorties in the Indo-Pacific.

The Pentagon has expressed the need to be able to engage China remotely. This requires a certain type of asset that can perform the mission over a wide range.

Artemis — or Aerial Reconnaissance and Targeting Multi-Mission Information System — uses a Bombardier Challenger 650 aircraft. The Army in 2019 awarded a contract to HII, and the company subsequently subcontracted Leidos to build the aircraft.

Ares — or Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System — uses a Bombardier Global Express 6500 aircraft. Alion Science and Technology, now owned by HII, won a contract to build the aircraft in 2020 and then subcontracted it to L3Harris Technologies to perform the task.

The Bombardier Global Express 6500 is larger than the Challenger 650. The larger platform gives the Army longer range and higher altitudes, which are considered key capabilities in the Pacific region.

Two additional Athena aircraft – a radar variant and a signals intelligence version – will join the force and be deployed in 2024 ahead of HADES. MAG Aerospace and L3Harris are working together to equip a Bombardier Global 6500 with ISR sensors for the radar variant. Sierra Nevada will provide the signals intelligence aircraft with the RAPCON-X sensor package.

“When you think about long-range fires, the additional word is accuracy. Accuracy means you need a target. If you’re going to have a target, you have to be able to surveil the area and locate a target of interest,” Steve Patrick, vice president of Bombardier Defense, told Defense News in an interview last month.

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“The way we look at the set of problems is not to have a single solution to a single problem,” he added, “but to have a solution that can satisfy multiple problems, that can be redeveloped around the world very quickly, which can focus on where the current crisis is.”

The Army said last year that the first phase of the HADES program would involve two different aircraft with different sensor packages.

The Program Executive Office Aviation is providing contract leadership for the HADES program, while PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors will work to acquire payloads for platforms selected for the program.

In September 2022, the Army awarded contracts to L3Harris and Raytheon’s Applied Signal Technology to develop sensors for HADES. At least one team has formed ahead of the HADES program competition: L3Harris, Leidos, and MAG Aerospace announced in October that they were partnering on the effort.

Colin Demarest contributed to this story.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist who covers land warfare for Defense News. He has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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