WASHINGTON — Two large defense contractors are teaming up to work on an intelligence-collecting jet the U.S. Army considers vital to its future long-range spying and targeting abilities.
L3Harris Technologies and Leidos on July 25 said they would collaborate on a proposal for the Army Theater Level High Altitude Expeditionary Next Airborne-Signals Intelligence venture, or ATHENA-S.
The Army is in the midst of an aerial reconnaissance overhaul, moving away from Cold War-era aircraft and toward a future featuring advanced sensors, flights at higher altitudes and insights gathered from deeper distances. The ATHENA — of which there are the variants “S” and “R” — is part of the push.
“The Leidos-L3Harris team focuses each of our companies’ extensive and diverse talents to achieve mission success with ATHENA-S,” Tim Freeman, a Leidos senior vice president and airborne solutions operations manager, said in a statement. “With our combined integration, investment, engineering and design expertise, we look forward to producing a highly-configurable platform with more ISR capabilities to create an operational picture of the battlefield.”
The companies said they would together fit two Bombardier Global 6500 jets with radar, electronic and communications intelligence equipment tailored to ATHENA-S specifications. The aircraft are intended to support Army missions within European Command’s area of responsibility, which includes Ukraine and Russia.
L3Harris and Leidos are already involved with other Army intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs, namely the Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System, or ARES; and an airborne reconnaissance intelligence system dubbed ARTEMIS.
The former has been dispatched to the Pacific, a priority region for the Biden administration. It has logged more than 130 flight hours. The latter has been sent to Europe, where it’s recorded more than 2,000 hours of operation.
The Army is beefing up its information-collection arsenal as the Pentagon prepares for a potential conflict with Russia and China. Fights with either power would cover a vast distance and require mass amounts of troops, a pivot away from the more surgical counterinsurgency campaigns of the past. The conditions are driving a demand for what’s known as deep sensing: the capacity to find, monitor, target and kill from greater distances and with finer precision.
“In simplistic terms it is we, as a country, who need to understand the environment that we’re going to operate in as robustly as possible from as far away as possible,” Mark Kitz told C4ISRNET in June, when he was the service’s program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors. Kitz now leads Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical.
“That’s critical,” he added, “not putting any of our systems or soldiers at risk, and doing it in a way that we can understand the operating space at very long distances, especially when you look at Indo-Pacific Command, especially when you look at the target environment in Ukraine.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.