Editor’s note: This article was updated Nov. 15, 2023, to include additional information from Bombardier.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army selected Sierra Nevada Corp. to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and related services for an ongoing overhaul of its aerial spying and targeting capabilities.
The company’s RAPCON-X, converted Bombardier business jets, won approval for the Army’s Theater Level High Altitude Expeditionary Next Airborne ISR-Signals Intelligence project, or ATHENA-S, according to a Nov. 14 announcement.
The multi-year contract, initially teased last month at the Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington, is worth $554 million. Sierra Nevada spent millions of its own dollars refining its candidate, which is capable of cuing in on electronic transmissions and collecting target signatures on the ground.
“This award is the direct result of SNC’s commitment to putting ‘skin in the game’ and staying one step ahead by anticipating challenges and innovating solutions years in advance,” Tim Owings, executive vice president for mission solutions and technologies, said in a statement. “Our born-digital design process and engineering techniques place RAPCON-X among the most capable and rapidly configurable A-ISR platforms worldwide.”
The Army is in the midst of revamping its aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare arsenals. It is moving away from Cold War-era planes and their limitations and toward a future where battlefield insights are gleaned from dramatic distance, with long-reaching firepower to match.
The ISR investments come as the U.S. Department of Defense prepares for potential large-scale conflict with Russia and China. The Army is paying particular attention to what’s known as deep sensing, or the capacity to find, monitor, target and kill from farther away and with finer precision.
“A number of senior U.S. military leaders, including combatant commanders in their most recent posture statements to Congress, have noted that the U.S. needs enhanced ISR capabilities to maintain domain awareness,” Steve Patrick, vice president of Bombardier Defense, said in a statement. “Our Global 6500 aircraft platform — in SNC’s RAPCON-X configuration — allows the military to close the ISR gap, to sense deeper and further, and loiter over theater for longer than previous fixed-wing aircraft.”
Both ATHENA-S and its long-range-radar sister, ATHENA-R, will shape the service’s High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System, or HADES, expected later this decade. L3Harris Technologies and MAG Aerospace were tapped for ATHENA-R earlier this year. The companies did not disclose the value of the contract at the time.
Sierra Nevada said it will conduct its ATHENA-S work at facilities in Hagerstown, Maryland. The company is the 57th largest defense contractor in the world when ranked by defense-related revenue, according to Defense News analysis.
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.