WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has selected two of the world’s largest defense contractors to develop surveillance and interception payloads for drones that can be launched from a moving vehicle or larger aircraft.
The agency’s Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, or PEO IEW&S, on Nov. 29 named Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman as the winners of other trading authority agreements for a launch effects program “in the infrared and electronic sphere war. “
Further details on the planned payloads were not provided.
The initial awards are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and are aimed at maturing existing technologies, according to the office, which is helping develop everything from biometric tools to surveillance balloons. Tens of millions of dollars are up for grabs in the long run.
The Army is exploring launch effects — previously divided into ground-launched and air-launched camps — to extend its reach without putting additional lives on the line.
After spending decades in the Middle East waging counterinsurgency campaigns, the US is now focusing on potential large-scale conflicts with Russia and China. The two powers have built anti-access and area-denial infrastructure to keep out US weapons or forces that could overrun.
Launched effects, launched from tanks or helicopters or something else, are intended to complement the existing equipment that soldiers rely on to detect, target, engage and kill. The technology is seen as a critical part of the Army’s future attack reconnaissance and long-range attack aircraft efforts.
Launch effects have been successfully tested by the Army in the past, including Project Convergence, the emerging technology melting pot. In January, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced that it first flew the launch-like Eaglet, dropping a military-owned Gray Eagle extended-range unmanned aerial system during a demonstration in Utah.
Lockheed is the world’s largest contractor when ranked by defense-related revenue, according to Defense News’ Top 100 analysis. The Maryland-based company earned $63 billion in 2022. Northrop is the third-largest contractor by the same measure, raking in $32 billion over the same period.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration – specifically Cold War decommissioning and nuclear weapons development – for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award winning photographer.
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