Predator XP & Predator C Avenger: Providing Life-Saving Situational Awareness

Predator XP and Predator C feature triple-redundant flight control computers and redundant flight control surfaces and avionics that deliver unparalleled reliability.

Issue: 06-2016By Dr Vivek LallPhoto(s): By GA-ASI

Safeguarding warfighters on the ground, providing infrastructure protection, and searching for survivors in the wake of natural disasters has previously been the job of manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. Using manned aircraft for ISR missions is a resource-intensive effort requiring multiple aircraft with heavy operating costs and vast teams of trained personnel to pilot, operate sensors, and perform maintenance. The result has been an incomplete solution coming at great expense to the countries that have made the required investment to address this critical problem. The ISR mission presents two critical challenges.

First, persistent surveillance over vast stretches of open terrain is required for missions that could include spotting the covert movement of personnel and goods. Manned aircraft do not adequately provide the required level of persistence due to their limited endurance. Second, there are significant limitations to the number of qualified personnel available to recruit and train for manned ISR programmes to ensure constant watch over these areas.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc’s (GA-ASI) Predator® XP remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) was designed specifically to overcome these challenges. Equipped with GAASI’s state-of-the-art Lynx® multi-mode radar mated to an integrated, high-definition electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera, Predator XP provides all-weather, day/night performance for a wide-area search capability. Lynx’s Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) mode provides a quick and easy method for locating moving vehicles. The radar’s new Maritime Wide Area Search (MWAS) mode, including Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) coupled with an Automatic Identification System (AIS), provides the capability to complete a variety of maritime missions successfully, including coastal surveillance, drug interdiction, long-range surveillance, small target detection, and search and rescue operations. GA-ASI’s Detect and Avoid (DAA) System, which includes a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II) for cooperative traffic and an optical sensor for non-cooperative traffic, allows for self-separation and collision avoidance with other air traffic in international and domestic airspace.

With an endurance of 35 hours and the ability to ascend up to 25,000 feet, Predator XP is designed with state-of-the-art technologies, including an automatic take-off and landing capability, redundant flight control surfaces, enhanced avionics, and triple-redundant flight control computers. The aircraft also is equipped with both line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) data link systems for over-thehorizon operations including aircraft-to-aircraft or ship data communications for man-unmanned teaming capability. Flying since 2009, GA-ASI’s high-speed, multi-mission Predator C Avenger® is a long-endurance, medium-to-high altitude RPAS that can perform wide-area surveillance, time-sensitive missions over land or sea, and a host of other challenging military missions. The aircraft has much higher operational and transit speeds than current Predator series aircraft, resulting in quick response and rapid repositioning for improved mission flexibility and survivability.

A highly advanced, next-generation RPAS, Avenger is a jetpowered by a Pratt & Whitney PW545B turbofan engine capable of producing 4,800 pounds installed thrust. The engine is designed for greater fuel economy and features class-leading fuel consumption components. Avenger can operate at speeds up to 400 KTAS, a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet, and 18 hours endurance. Its significant payload capacity enables it to carry multiple sensors.

Featuring unparalleled reliability, Predator XP and Predator C feature triple-redundant flight control computers and redundant flight control surfaces and avionics that deliver unparalleled reliability. These state-of-the-art systems are derived from their predecessor, Predator B. Since its first flight in 2001, Predator B’s mission has evolved from military operations to supporting many humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery operations for a variety of customers, which Predator XP and Predator C could likewise satisfy.

Fire Imaging

First responders need as much situational awareness as possible to fight fires spread across treacherous forest terrain. In 2011, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deployed Predator B in support of firefighters during the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history where fires consumed more than half a million acres. Predator B provided streaming imagery of areas affected by the fires to incident commanders and other fire managers on the ground in real-time, supplying them with valuable time to employ the most effective and efficient measures to extinguish the blazes and protect firefighters.

Earthquake Assistance

In 2012, a US Air Force (USAF) Predator B helped with mock search and rescue efforts after a simulated earthquake struck southern California. The exercise demonstrated Predator B’s ability to be integrated with civilian disaster relief agency efforts. This exercise followed in the wake of a powerful earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010 where USAF Predator aircraft were critical in helping first responders spot fires and find survivors.

Search and Rescue

In 2013, Predator B was tasked by USAF crews to narrow the search area significantly for a missing biker who was stranded and injured in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. The aircraft enabled law enforcement personnel to focus on areas where the missing biker most likely would be found. This rescue mission follows a similar one successfully conducted by USAF Predator B crews in response to kayakers that were reported missing in New Mexico in 2012.

Maritime Surveillance

The DHS operates the Predator B RPAS configured for maritime operations (‘Guardian’) to enhance the agency’s long-range ISR capabilities. During missions in the Caribbean, Guardian has supported successful operations against a series of maritime threats, including counter-narcotics efforts and other illicit activities, contributing to the defeat of human trafficking, piracy, and terrorist schemes.

Similar to Predator B, Predator XP and Avenger can perform military and civil missions as their capabilities are uniquely qualified to support law enforcement, public safety, search and rescue, and emergency response operations. GA-ASI’s Predator series RPAS are currently operating within civil airspace, and the company is participating in world-leading airspace integration initiatives.

GA-ASI is a world leader in ISR technologies and is best known for its Predator family of RPAS, currently in operation worldwide. Amassing nearly 40,000 flight hours per month, the company’s aircraft have accumulated over 3.8 million cumulative flight hours to date.

The author is the CEO of General Atomics.