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GA-ASI unveils Sparrohawk drone-launched drone

Sparrowhawk sUAS on a MQ-9A RPA
GA-ASI photo of the Sparrowhawk sUAS

US defense technology company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has shared the first image of its Sparrowhawk small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) that is carried and deployed by larger UAS.

The photograph shared by the company shows the Sparrowhawk strapped to an MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft for a series of tests carried out earlier this month.

GA-ASI previously hinted at the captive carry demonstrations with a social media post earlier this month.

The Sparrowhawk aircraft is designed as an airborne launch and recovery demonstrator aircraft tailored to fit GA-ASI platforms, and is focused on Advanced Battle Management System’s attritableONE technologies.

GA-ASI says the Sparrowhawk iterates on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins reusable UAS program to further airborne recovery of sUAS. The Gremlins program envisions that groups of small UAS would be recovered by larger manned aircraft like the C-130. It is unclear whether the company intends to develop an arresting system that would allow the MQ-9 RPA to recover the smaller UAS.

“Sparrowhawk extends and multiplies MQ-9-based sensors, reduces manpower and increases ISR coverage,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “With attritableONE technology that is survivable and precise, Sparrowhawk is a true game changer.”

Regarding the testing campaign from earlier this month, the company said the Sparrowhawk sUAS was carried on a MQ-9A and controlled using GA-ASI’s Metis software defined control station hosted on a laptop computer. Communications were achieved using a fielded meshONE datalink, enabling collaborative autonomy capabilities among the platforms. The cooperation in denied environments (CODE) autonomy engine was implemented to further understand cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) processing for unmanned systems.

The test flights build on the capabilities demonstrated when Gray Eagle carried two Area-I Altius-600 air launched effects (ALEs) during multi-domain operations (MDO) demonstrations.

GA-ASI noted that the Sparrowhawk would allow below-the-weather ISR, and enable reduced visual and acoustic ISR. It also enables attritable ISR/EW in the contested environment, allowing the MQ-9 to stand off at safe ranges.