The U.S. Army is the nation’s force for decisive action — which means it needs systems that give its soldiers a decided advantage on the battlefield.
Warfare in the 21st century, however, is evolving at a rapid pace. That means the Army can’t preserve all its old doctrines, tactics, or equipment as threats change and soldiers adapt to new environments. What the force needs are platforms that are known and proven but which can also adapt – and stay ahead.
One prime example is the new Gray Eagle 25M built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. It takes the Army’s current flagship medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft and elevates it to a new degree of power, interoperability, and combat capability.
The new reliable
Preserving the familiar core Gray Eagle aircraft means there’s no need to expend the time and cost on a brand-new system. But equipping the platform with the upgrades unique to the 25M model creates a high-performing aircraft unlike any in service elsewhere and enables the Army to fight in powerful new ways wherever the mission requires.
Gray Eagle 25M spans the traditional unmanned aircraft roles — long-loitering reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition — to some of the newest, including delivering stand-in effects via its own onboard systems or via air-launched effects. The Army needs systems that support soldiers across multiple domains. That’s what Gray Eagle 25M does.
The aircraft does this with a range of new onboard equipment and capabilities. Broadly, what makes this possible is a modular open systems approach in which GA-ASI and Gray Eagle 25M give the Army huge flexibility as to what missions to tackle and what gear to use. The open systems architecture aboard the Gray Eagle 25M enables it to flex however commanders need it to in order to carry a new payload, conduct a new mission, or integrate other new hardware without onerous commitments of time and cost.
What does this mean in practice? Take air-launched effects — the small, unmanned aircraft that Gray Eagle 25M will launch to sense and affect the battlespace. Open architecture means the Army can quickly and simply add air-launched effects to the mix, regardless of the manufacturer. As soldiers encounter new mission requirements, Gray Eagle 25M is ready to adapt what it can do so that it can carry any payloads needed to stay ahead of the mission — air-launched effects, weapons, or others.
Powerful new upgrades are present within the aircraft’s own systems, too. Greater onboard electrical power means that Gray Eagle 25M can carry a new generation of advanced payloads that support artificial intelligence and machine learning. As these capabilities evolve, tomorrow’s soldiers won’t need to use Gray Eagle 25M to collect intelligence, transmit it to human operators or another central location, and then task the aircraft to respond accordingly. Instead, much of that collection, assessment, and action can take place onboard the aircraft, at the edge.
This greatly enhances Gray Eagle 25M’s ability to conduct what the Army calls Detection, Identification, Location, and Reporting (DILR), speeding up timelines and opening up more decision space for soldiers and commanders. What’s more, the software that supports these capabilities is designed to be portable and usable on other aircraft in the Army’s arsenal. Earlier-model Gray Eagle aircraft already have shown what’s possible with manned-unmanned teaming — as when an AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopter crew might exploit the sensors on a Gray Eagle, for example — and Gray Eagle 25M’s new capabilities push that to a new level.
For example, Gray Eagle 25M not only will release air-launched effects, but it will also support human-crewed aircraft such as those planned under the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft programs. Gray Eagle 25M will serve as a provider and enabler for these and other systems throughout the battlespace.
Its air-launched effects will protect the human-crewed aircraft by detecting, decoying, neutralizing, or destroying anti-air systems. Gray Eagle 25M’s advanced sensing will provide early warning and detection for the aircraft. It will provide targeting for Army and joint units’ long-range precision fires. It will support troops with its own onboard weapons, if necessary. And Gray Eagle 25M also will serve as a communications node for Army, joint, and allied units. Regardless of whatever other missions 25M is assigned to, its onboard equipment means it always can serve as that communications node.
The aircraft also is just as vital when it’s away from other units, operating with small groups of other unmanned systems or patrolling on its own. New onboard sensing enables the collection of essential communications and electronic intelligence. Plus, Gray Eagle 25M carries an advanced new sensor unlike any before on an aircraft of its type: the Eagle Eye radar.
Eagle Eye is a multi-mode radar that builds on years of pioneering expertise by GA-ASI. Using synthetic aperture radar, Eagle Eye enables soldiers to look in detail through clouds, smoke, dust, haze, or other conditions that might obscure a purely visual sensor. And for the first time, Eagle Eye enables motion video via synthetic aperture radar.
Eagle Eye can perform moving target indication, detect changes, build strip maps, and yield other precise insights to aircraft operators. With video synthetic aperture radar, it can produce a moving image of its radar returns. This produces up-to-the-second insights about, for example, a column of vehicles being imaged by a Gray Eagle 25M, or vessels of uncertain identity along a hostile coastline, and much more. In fact, Eagle Eye has a dedicated maritime mode that supports the Army’s need to conduct multi-domain operations.
New sensors like Eagle Eye, combined with a modular, open systems architecture for a huge variety of payloads — all supported by greater onboard power — are only some of the ways in which Gray Eagle 25M represents a new class of unmanned aircraft. Another is the aircraft’s more powerful new heavy-fuel engine, HFE 2.0, which provides greatly enhanced maintainability to keep the 25M in the fight.
For all that’s new, however, Gray Eagle 25M remains a substantially familiar aircraft — one the Army has known and used to great success for many years. It deliberately is not an all-new solution because enduring Gray Eagle platforms provide such a strong foundation from which to evolve.
Evolving the platform, though, is precisely what GA-ASI has done with Gray Eagle 25M — making it the most advanced and capable Gray Eagle ever.