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The U.S. continues to turn out new and upgraded intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms at a blistering rate, but the emphasis is shifting inexorably from big-wing, manned platforms like the RC-135 Rivet Joint, E-8 Joint Stars and EC-130 Compass Call to unmanned aircraft and lighter-than-air designs.That trend will continue with Boeing’s Solar Eagle and Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout and Fire-X helicopter-based platforms. However, there is a bubble of interest in more versatile, lighter-that-air designs to supplement the traditional tethered designs that have been staples of cross-border surveillance in the U.S., Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan.As state- and non-state-based foes improve their own ISR, electronic warfare, information attack and cyber-exploitation capabilities, the U.S. and its allies will likely have to abandon expensive platforms so that investments can focus on more expensive and sophisticated payloads to counter those threats.Boeing and Northrop Grumman have released videos of three of their new concepts: the Phantom Ray, which has made its first flights; the Phantom Eye, which is aimed at long endurance; and the X-47B’s first flight for the Navy’s Uclass program.Phantom Ray first flight. Credit: BoeingPhantom Eye rollout. Credit: BoeingUclass X-47B first flight. Credit: Northrop Grumman1. Boeing’s Solar Eagle (Vulture II) development program is looking at a 2014 first flight. It is being configured to remain on station at stratospheric altitudes (above 60,000 ft.) for at least five years. (Credit: Boeing)2. Northrop Grumman launched the RQ-8A and MQ-8B Fire Scout as operational vertical-takeoff UAVs and is following it up with Fire-X that combines vertical flight with greater range, payload and cargo-hauling capabilities. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)3. HALE-D is a sub-scale demonstrator for Lockheed Martin’s High-Altitude Airship (HAA), an untethered, unmanned vehicle that is being designed to operate above the jet stream in a geostationary position to provide communications relay and persistent ISR. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)4. HiSentinel 80 and its derivatives are being demonstrated for the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. It runs on internal solar panels and is designed to operate at altitudes of 13-15 mi. (Photo: US Army)5. Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) is a Northrop Grumman product that is expected to fly at 22,000 ft. for three weeks at a speed of 30-80 kt. with a payload of 2,750 lb. (Northrop Grumman concept)6. World Surveillance Group Inc. has flown a prototype of its Argus One mid-altitude, long-endurance surveillance airship. The articulated body is designed to slither through the air to better deal with changing conditions. The snake-like craft is propelled by helium and can air-drop its payload. A follow-on concept is the Stratellite high-altitude, long-endurance UAV. (Photo: WSGI)One of the stories from the ISR double issue is already available on our free site. Read: New Bomber Brings ISR Surprises
ar99, ISR, unmanned
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