U.S. Army Close To Requesting Bids For Athena-R Fleet

The U.S. Army has deployed a second jet-based technology demonstrator to perform operational missions in the Indo-Pacific Command while gathering data and lessons for a future acquisition program. The Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES) departed for the Indo-Pacific region in mid-April, the Army says. Credit: U.S. Army

U.S. Army officials said on Oct. 11 that they will soon launch a competition for industry to supply a batch of contractor-owned, contractor-operated business jets equipped with a suite of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads. 

The Athena-R program, a term used as an approximated acronym for “Army Theater Level High Altitude Expeditionary Next Airborne ISR Radar,” seeks to bridge the Army’s aerial surveillance needs until the Army-operated High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System (HADES) program enters service later this decade, Lt. Col. Matt Paladino, a member of the Army’s ISR Task Force, tells Aerospace DAILY Oct. 11 on the sidelines of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting. 

The Army conducted an industry day for the Athena-R program in August, which produced four to six potential bidders for the contract, said Col. Joe Minor, the Army’s program manager for fixed wing aviation, during the same interview.

The Athena-R represents the third step in a “campaign of learning” by the Army’s aviation and intelligence branches to familiarize themselves with high-altitude sensing operations ahead of the solicitation process for the HADES program of record. The Army deployed a Leidos-owned Challenger 650 as part of the Airborne Reconnaissance and Targeting Multi-Mission System (Artemis) experiment in July 2020. An L3Harris-owned Global 6000 equipped with sensors followed last spring under the Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES) program. 

In addition to the Athena-R program, the Army is also modifying a second Challenger 650 business jet to serve as the Artemis II aircraft. 

All of the experimental programs will help the Army define requirements for the follow-on HADES acquisition of a new fleet of high-altitude business jets equipped with signals intelligence sensors and a synthetic aperture radar. At the same time, Artemis, ARES and Athena-R are expected to perform real airborne intelligence missions for combatant commanders in Europe, Africa and the Indo-Pacific regions. 

The Athena-R program may draw several bidders. L3Harris and MAG Aerospace announced a teaming agreement on Oct. 11 to modify Bombardier Global 6500s for the Athena-R program. Sierra Nevada unveiled the RAPCON-X concept in August, showing a Global 6500 modified with sensors. L3Harris and Leidos may also offer new versions of ARES and Artemis, respectively.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


1 Comment
“Artemis, ARES and Athena-R are expected to perform real airborne intelligence missions for combatant commanders in Europe, Africa and the Indo-Pacific regions.”

As “contractor owned, contractor operated” assets, where does the operation of these aircraft fit in international law? If, during the conduct of a real-time intelligence operation, one of these aircraft is forced down in an unfriendly nation, the crew would not have the protections that the Geneva Convention affords to military personnel. Since AWST has advised the world that these aircraft are involved in intelligence gathering missions, this would make the crew “spies”. And the penalties for spying are considerably more harsh in most countries.

Has anyone in the Army talked to “legal” about this?