Textron [TXT] said on Monday its Aerosonde small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) conducted its first flight and maritime integration with a Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) guided missile destroyer last month.
Last October, the Navy awarded Textron a multi-year Aerosonde task order to use the aircraft to conduct maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services aboard two destroyers.
In response to questions, the company told Defense Daily the deployed Aerosonde is currently operational with Indo-Pacific Command and is supporting 7th Fleet operations. It was installed and verified within the last “couple of months” leading to the March flight.
“Integration is non-intrusive to the ship’s operations because it has such a small footprint yet provides significant capability. It can be stored in the nooks and crannies of the ship and doesn’t require a hangar,” Textron continued.
“This is important because DDGs don’t have hangars and until the Aerosonde UAS, did not have their own organic ISR capability,” the company added.
The company argued this success with the initial flight helps establish the system’s ability to offer a reliable aircraft to support ship-based missions with a small aviation footprint.
The Aerosonde is set to deploy on a second undisclosed DDG-51 in the second half of 2022. Textron said they expect to also field a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) hybrid quad version of the Aerosonde, called Aerosonde HQ UAS.
Previously, the Aerosonde has been operating off the expeditionary sea base ship USS Herschel “Woody” Williams (ESB-4) for the last three years, conducting missions with the 2nd Fleet.
“The system’s long endurance capabilities make it an ideal platform for maritime ISR operations; search and rescue; and many other missions providing the U.S. Navy with enhanced real-time situational awareness at any time, anywhere,” Wayne Prender, Trextron senior vice president of air systems, said in a statement.
Last November, the Navy announced its intention to use a sole source contract with Textron to extend the UAS ISR services via the Aerosonde on ESB-4 for at least one more year, with two 12-month and two six-month option periods (Defense Daily, Nov. 8, 2021).
The Aerosonde has a wingspan of 12 feet, weighs 80 pounds, has a range of 75 nautical miles, endurance of over 14 hours, and can hold a payload of up to 20 pounds. The Aerosonde has also reached 575,000 total flight hours.
The UAS is integrated with a ship’s combat system to provide sensor options including day/night full-motion video, wide area surveillance, communications relay, and signals intelligence.
Textron told Defense Daily the UAS functions with a modular open architecture design with little integration needed and a payload that can be swapped out.
“Aerosonde UAS is agnostic with respect to missions and payloads which are easy to install. We have the ability to integrate payloads from industry, government and academia. We have deployed LIDAR and synthetic aperture radar in addition to other payloads, and these systems can operate simultaneously or be swapped out in under an hour if the mission evolves or requires it,” the company said.
Textron also told Defense Daily that as a class 3 system the UAS operates via the same contractor-owned, contractor-operated (COCO) model as when based on land. This entails having up to three personnel supporting it integrated and staying on the ship.
“COCO has been successful for us and our customer because it allows for constant evolution of the technology,” Textron said.
The company underscored the Aerosonde operates with a heavy fuel engine, so it uses the same fuel already based on a DDG-51, requiring no extra logistics to refuel it.
“The Aerosonde aircraft burns only 1 pound per hour of fuel compared with 1,000 pounds per hour for a manned system, highlighting the cost effectiveness of using a system right sized for the mission,” the company added.