MONCh had the opportunity this morning to have a walk about of a static display of Air Tractor’s AT-820U Multi-Mission Aircraft, guided by Tom Menker, Business Development and Government Relations Representative at the company. “Think of it this way. The 802U, is the basic airplane; it is the ‘blank canvas’ upon which a variety of integrators can install their preferred systems,” Mr. Menker noted.
The aircraft’s lead integrator is L3 Aerospace Systems (L3). The viewed AT-820U had a full multi-sensor payload capability, configured with two electro-optical infrared sensors, synthetic aperture radar, and signals intelligence sensors. Each of these systems can be simultaneously employed on the Air Tractor-L3 Aerospace Systems AT-802L Longsword and integrated on L3 subsidiary ForceX’s WIDOW mission management system. “The WIDOW mission system is within the family of mission systems that ForceX designs. It’s important to consider that it is the same operating system as is on AC-130,” Mr. Menker explained. “But the underlying OS that is in the Widow mission system is the same. The same with the Air Force Special Operations Command U-28 ISR aircraft – it has the same underlying OS. What is unique about Widow is that it is open architecture – ‘plug-and-play.’”
This architecture strategy further supports the exportability of the AT-802 series. While some nations can receive almost the full array of systems, other countries will receive a reduced capability.
Air Tractor has delivered 770 of the AT-802 series aircraft, predominantly to international clients. These and other aircraft sold overseas, has led to the establishment of a global maintenance infrastructure. “This aircraft is flying in the Middle East, Asia and Africa today,” the industry subject matter expert emphasized. And beyond Air Tractor, L3, and its partners also have international presence. Indeed, Moog supports Middle East air forces with its storage management systems. “There are Moog systems on many partner nation aircraft and US military aircraft today,” Mr. Menker remarked, and added, “Support of these aircraft in a partner nation is not a new ‘trick’ for us.”
Further, the company spokesperson encouraged the author to consider the -802 fleet’s reported maintenance to flight hour ratio of 0.7 maintenance hour to 1 flight hour.
Other best-of-breed L3 team members and their responsibilities for the -802U on static display, in addition to Moog, include: Horizon Technologies’ Flying Fish XPOD (Sat-phone SIGINT System) with integrated L3 Wescam’s MX-15 EO-IR sensor; Thales’ I-Master GMTI SAR; BAE Systems’ Tactical SIGINT Payload; Raytheon’s Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS-A) EO/IR sensor with new mounting pylon designed specifically for the AT-802U. Consequently, the -802U in its Longsword configuration is said to further support the Air Force’s emerging policy that all service aircraft must be capable of integration into warfare domain networks.
Mr. Menker was queried about the -802U’s other expeditionary capabilities. He responded, “It is specifically designed for austere operations – on day 1, to day ‘last’. It was designed to be flown on a country road, dirt strips. It’s optimized for forward operating bases of choice – it was not designed to be tethered to an 8,000-ft. concrete runway, with supporting, ‘pristine’ infrastructure.”
Air Tractor is additionally eyeing the AT-802U as being competitive in the US Air Force leadership’s nascent concept of a Light ISR experiment. Mr. Menker added: “Our large amount of hard points, our ability to have all of those sensors fused in the ForceX mission system, and our 8 to 10 hours of endurance gives us a unique advantage. We think we meet the warfighters’ requirements in terms of endurance, payload and austere environment. This will also enable partner nations to enter the network of counter terrorism capable air forces and SOF.”