Tier drones -- Summary


  • Introduction
  • Tier 1 (Tier One) - General Atomics 'Gnat 750'
  • Tier 2 (Tier Two) - General Atomics 'Predator'
  • Tier 2+ (Tier Two Plus) - Teledyne Ryan Aeronautics (TRA) project
  • Tier 2++ (Tier Two Plus Plus)
  • Tier 3- (Tier Three Minus) - Lockheed Martin 'DarkStar'
  • Tier 3 (Tier Three) - Lockheed (LADC) project
  • Tier 4 (Tier Four)
  • Bibliography (AW&ST articles)
  • Overview of U.S. Reconnaissance/Surveillance Systems
  • Introduction

    The Tier reconnaissance and surveillance drones (RPVs or UAVs) are ARPA programs, which, depending on the specific vehicle, are jointly exercised with different agencies -- like the CIA or DARO -- or ordered on behalf of them.

    The 'Tier' designations are ARPA 'procurement' project names, not official military designations, which may be assigned later. The main reason that these drones are ARPA projects, is the ability to procure the systems under a new 'Section 845 -- Other Agreements Authority' granted to ARPA by Congress, for prototype development outside of the burden of normal defense procurement regulations and statutes.

    Back to Index

    Tier 1 -- General Atomics 'Gnat 750'

    The Tier 1 was procured by the CIA instead of the USAF or US Army, to shorten the procurement time and get a tactical reconnaissance/surveillance UAV online as fast as possible. Instead of the development of new vehicle, the CIA selected the General Atomics 'Gnat 750' drone, and opted to modify it to fit their requirements.

    The vehicle has an endurance of 24 to 30 hours at 5,000 to 15,000 feet with a small EO (Electro-Optical) payload.

    Two were bought by the CIA, but one crashed at the CIA's El Mirage, CA, test facility, due to software changes, made by CIA personnel, which lead to the shut down of the engine while the aircraft was on its landing approach. The remaining is owned by the CIA, and another one is leased, together with a ground station. A two-seat Schweizer RG-8A 'Condor', previously used by the USCG, is used as a data-relay aircraft.

    Maybe 3 more Tier 1 ('Gnat 750's, originally ordered by Turkey) and a ground station will be procured, and the drones may be updated with the Tier 2 engine (the Rotax 912). They were/are used from Albania and Croatia to monitor the war in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia etc.)

    The 'Gnat 750' was originally developed out of the 'Amber 1' UAV, designed by Leading Systems, Inc., and some are used for research purposes, e.g. Lockheed Martin operates a modified 'Gnat 750', for the Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), as AMR-RPV for atmospheric tests in Alaska.

    Back to Index

    Tier 2 -- General Atomics 'Predator'

    Pentagon's joint service UAV, the General Atomics 'Predator', has a 44 hours endurance at up to 25,000 feet with a 450 lb. payload, including an SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar), and can survey up to 1,300 sq. nautical miles. The first flight was on 7/3/1994, and 10 UAVs, 3 ground stations and sensors systems are planned to be procured (all together for $31.7 million ? -- other sources quote $3 million per UAV).

    It is ready for crisis deployments, and is used in Bosnia. It was flown daily from Ft. Huachuca, AZ, with EO (Electro-Optical) and IR (InfraRed) cameras and LOS (Line-Of-Sight) data links -- and some are now fitted with satellite data links for OTH (Over-The-Horizon) flights. All originally planned 10 aircraft were delivered before March 1995.

    Tier 2 UAVs participated with great success in the exercise 'Roving Sands', a combined theater ballistic missile defense and integrated air defense exercise, lasting from April to May 1995, based at Ft. Bliss, TX and the White Sands Missile Range, NM, but reaching out over a four-state area in a hunt for Scud-type mobile missiles. The Predators were tested at Libby Auxiliary Airfield (AAF) in Arizona. Vehicle #7 crashed at El Mirage Airport, CA -- the CIA / General Atomics UAV test facility -- on 6/12/1995 after a test flight, and another was lost over Bosnia on 8/11/1995, presumed to have been shot down by Bosnian Serb forces. On 8/14/1995, another 'Predator' was intentionally destroyed by flying it into a mountainside, because it developed engine trouble at the end of an operational mission. The Albania based 'Predators' use UHF satellite communications links for still photographs and some have Ku-band satcom links (similar to the 'C-Span' system used by U-2s) for real-time video. The 9th and 10th vehicle -- equipped with SAR -- will be shipped to Albania before 12/31/1995.

    Back to Index

    Tier 2+ (Tier 2 Plus) -- Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical (TRA)

    DARO/ARPA/US Atlantic Command program for a semi-autonomous long endurance surveillance UAV.

    The Winning Team Comprises

    Some of the Losing Teams were

    Other Offers

    Competitive offers for less sophisticated, but much cheaper vehicles were made by:

    Costs and Schedules

    Proposed Technical Data for the Teledyne Ryan Design

    Back to Index

    Tier 2++ (Tier 2 Plus-Plus)

    Proposed stealthy Tier 2+, also called Tier 4. Would have had more payload than Tier 3-, but was not proceeded with.

    Back to Index

    Tier 3- (Tier 3 Minus) -- Lockheed Martin 'DarkStar'

    DARO/ARPA/US Atlantic Command project of a semi-autonomous stealthy reconnaissance UAV, actually a downgraded Tier 3 drone.

    The Winning Team Comprises

    Costs and Schedules

    Technical Data and Layout

    Back to Index

    Tier 3 -- Lockheed project

    Very stealthy high endurance reconnaissance UAV from Lockheed, described as a B-2-sized flying wing with a wingspan of 150 feet. Supposedly priced at $150 to $400 million a piece, and canceled after $850 million were spent on the program. Maybe scaled down, flyable prototypes, wind tunnel and RCS-test models were built and/or flown. It is possible, that the Tier 3 program started as the -- still shrouded in secrecy -- Project 'Q'.

    Back to Index

    Tier 4

    Proposed stealthy Tier 2+, also called Tier 2++. Would have had more payload than Tier 3-, but was not proceeded with.

    Back to Index

    Aviation Week & Space Technology Articles

    This list is by no means complete, but it is a nice little reference, if one looks for more in-depth data, photos or drawings.

    Back to Index

    Overview of U.S. Airborne Reconnaissance/Surveillance Systems

    1. It seems, that the Strategic Reconnaissance and Intelligence gathering role is filled by:
    2. The Medium-Range (between pure strategic and pure tactical) Reconnaissance and Surveillance role (including AEW and ASW) is filled by:
    3. And the pure Tactical Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Targeting role is filled by:
    The most interesting thing for me is, how good will the data-fusion, data- dissemination/distribution be handled and integrated into existing and planned systems, not to forget the various ground and sea-based systems (like Aegis and other integrated systems).

    Back to Index

    (c) 1995 by Andreas Gehrs-Pahl