NATIONAL HARBOR, Md – Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, today unveiled a new extended-range drone that it claims can hit previously unattainable distances for small unmanned systems.
The company’s Integrator Extended Range design has a 200-nautical mile radius with 10 hours on station, or 300 miles with six hours on station, according to company officials. The 145-pound system was unveiled at the annual Air Force Association conference.
Those ranges improve on current capabilities for unmanned systems of that size, which traditionally have been limited to around 50-70 miles distance and line-of-sight tethering. The increased distance and time comes from advances in satcom technology that have made it possible to shrink down the needed components to useable size.
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Esina Alic, Insitu CEO, made it clear the company is targeting the Integrator-ER for the Air Force, saying bluntly during her presentation, “Air Force customer, we have heard you. We are giving you a theater range platform, at a fraction of cost, at a fraction of a footprint compared to today’s ISR asset in the field.”
Specifically, Alic and Don Williamson, vice president and general manager for defense with the company, positioned the system as giving the Air Force an option to stop using high end systems for surveillance missions. Buying a lower-cost system like the Integrator would allow higher-capability MALE systems, like the MQ-9, to focus on higher-stakes opportunities or strike missions, while also allowing those systems to pick up missions currently tasked to top-end fighter jets.
“No one in the air force has specifically evaluated this capability,” Williamson said. “One of the purposes of being able to show here is, to be able to reveal this with our Air Force customer. We have a number of engagements coming up over the next couple of days.”
The body of the Integrator-ER is based off of the company’s Blackjack system, a program of record for the Marine Corps. While not listing a cost for the system, Williamson indicated it would be comparable to the Blackjack, and around one-third of the cost of larger drones like the Reaper. Insitu is pitching it as contractor owned and operated, with roughly 12 people needed to run the system.
As the name implies, the system can flip between multiple payloads, which can be managed in the battlefield. That includes several EO/IR payloads. Logos Technologies is also pitching its Redkite-1, a wide-area motion imagery system designed with the Integrator in mind.
The system displayed on the show floor had an empty pylon spot under either wing. Asked about the potential for weapons being attached to the system, Williamson declined to comment directly but said “I would tell you that it is something that we have investigated, there is a road map to offering some kinetic options.”
The “core configuration” falls under ITAR-restrictions, Williamson said, but noted there is a “design criteria” to consider all options for international sales in the future. And the company intends to invest in 2019 in what its calling “phase two” of the design, upgrading unspecified capabilities.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.