General Atomics demonstrated the ability of its MQ-9A Drone to carry ‘Sparrowhawk’ Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) on September 16-17, 2020.

The ‘Sparrowhawk’ aircraft is designed as an airborne launch and recovery demonstrator aircraft tailored to fit GA-ASI platforms, and is focused on Advanced Battle Management System’s attritableONE technologies, a GA_ASI press release  said.

Sparrowhawk iterates on the DARPA Gremlins Program to further airborne recovery of sUAS, reducing the cost of operation and enabling new mission capabilities to GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft.

“Sparrowhawk extends and multiplies MQ-9-based sensors, reduces manpower and increases ISR coverage,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander.

The Sparrowhawk sUAS was carried on a MQ-9A and controlled exclusively using GA-ASI’s Metis Software Defined Control Station hosted on a laptop computer, which drastically reduced the system’s logistical footprint and supports the vision for interfaces to the aircraft from across the battlefield — without the need for a Ground Control Station shelter or vehicle.

Communications were achieved using a fielded meshONE datalink, enabling collaborative autonomy capabilities among the platforms. The Cooperation in Denied Environments (CODE) autonomy engine was implemented to further understand cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing for unmanned systems.

The test flights build on the capabilities demonstrated when Gray Eagle carried two Area-I Altius-600 Air Launched Effects (ALEs) during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) demonstrations, underscoring GA-ASI’s commitment to expanding the capabilities of its aircraft. Sparrowhawk and airborne recovery also enable these benefits:

Allows below-the-weather ISR, and enables reduced visual and acoustic ISR

Enables attritable ISR/EW in the contested environment, allowing the MQ-9 to stand off at safe ranges.

Employs larger and more expensive payloads at greater transit ranges compared to ground-launched aircraft and air-launched expendables.

Maintains the chain of custody, through adverse weather, MQ-9 rotations, or with multiple targets.

The press release did not explain how the sUAS would be recovered. It is still not clear whether the ‘Sparrowhawk’ would be recovered by the MQ-9A itself or brought to land on ground.