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Australian C-130J Hercules aircraft remotely pilots UAS in “first-of-its kind” trial

Sky Ranger R70 drone ready for operation from an airborne C-130J Hercules
Photo: Royal Australian Air Force

A Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules remotely piloted a small unnmanned aerial system (UAS) recently in what the defense ministry called a first-of-its kind trial that takes taken air-land integration to new heights.

The collaboration between Plan Jericho, No. 3 Security Forces Squadron (3SECFOR), No. 37 Squadron (37SQN) and Army has the potential to open up a range of capability options for the joint force.

The trial at RAAF Edinburgh tested the viability of operating the Sky Ranger R70 drone via the aircraft’s onboard satellite communications (SATCOM) link, opening up future potential to operate UAS or other networked capabilities from anywhere in the world and vice versa, demonstrating an ability to upload live imagery from offboard sensor systems.

Squadron Leader Peter Cunningham highlighted that “this trial is the first time that airborne control UAS has been attempted from a C-130J Hercules. We used our wide-band satellite communication systems to provide a link to the UAS controller on the C-130J beyond the line of sight, and received video from the UAS throughout the flight”.

“Working together with different skill sets and stakeholders such as 3SECFOR, Army and Plan Jericho has shown how we can be responsive to meet the needs of Air Force in pretty short order,” Squadron Leader Cunningham said.

Corporal Mitchell Blight said he could see the enormous potential for army commanders on the ground.

“With this sort of technology, we can see much further and be more distant from our targets, while still getting a comprehensive understanding of the ground in front of us through a streamlined information feed,” Corporal Blight said.

During the airborne operation, the team were also able to capture overarching video of the trial, using the Litening sensor pod, which was recently been mounted on a pylon underneath the wing of the C130J demonstrator.

This proof of concept extends the connected sensor network, showing the potential to share greater amounts of information and improving decision making in the air and on the ground, the defense ministry said.