WASHINGTON — Sierra Nevada Corp., the world’s 54th largest protection contractor within the Protection Information annual rating, will present the U.Okay. with high-altitude uncrewed balloons for use for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The U.S. aerospace firm headquartered in Sparks, Nevada, will reveal the balloons’ capabilities as a part of a U.Okay. Ministry of Defence’s Venture Aether evaluation section contract, in line with an Aug. 10 press launch from the corporate. The contract is valued at as a lot as £100 million (U.S. $121 million) and comes amid related investments within the know-how from U.S. lawmakers.
The U.Okay. mission appears to deal with the nation’s want for communication programs which can be quickly maneuverable for long-duration missions that require minimal resupply or upkeep. Ayse Caglar, a spokesperson for Sierra Nevada didn’t instantly return a telephone name searching for remark.
“SNC has a protracted historical past of fast improvement, integration and worldwide deployment of C5ISR programs throughout all area environments,” mentioned Tim Owings, the corporate’s govt vp, in an announcement. “We’re very happy to reveal SNC’s legacy of success with a majority of these autonomous programs to the MOD and proceed increasing our footprint throughout the U.Okay.”
The U.Okay. ministry introduced the mission in December, saying it was searching for “an uncrewed stratospheric communications and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) functionality with a worldwide attain in near-real time.”
With their minimal weight, high-altitude balloons have attracted consideration for his or her capacity to stay within the air for lengthy intervals of time whereas conducting surveillance operations in addition to their potential functionality to trace hypersonic weapons.
Throughout the pond, U.S. lawmakers have additionally signaled their curiosity within the know-how. The Senate model of the Nationwide Protection Authorization Act for FY23 places $15 million towards stratospheric balloon analysis. The invoice additionally consists of a further $10.2 million for high-altitude balloons for SOUTHCOM as an “unfunded requirement” — or wish-list merchandise — underneath its categorised applications listing.
Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of SOUTHCOM, instructed the Home Armed Companies Committee in March that the command is eager about operationalizing resilient, energy-efficient platforms that cut back emissions, similar to high-altitude balloons.
The U.S. navy has been exploring potential makes use of for balloons for years. In 2019, the navy performed surveillance assessments utilizing high-altitude balloons made by SNC throughout midwestern states, in line with paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Fee.
The balloons, which may attain the stratosphere at altitudes of as much as 65,000 ft, have been mentioned to be examined to see in the event that they might be used for the surveillance of narcotic trafficking and homeland safety threats. In response to Pentagon finances justification paperwork, the U.S. mission that examined the balloons concluded in FY 2021.
The Military has additionally explored the potential for utilizing high-altitude balloons to supply beyond-line-of-sight capabilities and has examined the know-how at its White Sands Missile Vary in New Mexico.
Demonstrations of SNC’s surveillance balloons for Venture Aether are anticipated to happen later this yr.
Catherine Buchaniec is a reporter at C4ISRNET, the place she covers synthetic intelligence, cyber warfare and uncrewed applied sciences.