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US Navy fast-tracks contract for MQ-9 SkyTower II airborne network extension

An artist's rendering showing an MQ-9A Block 5-25 in VMU-1 colours. The SkyTower ANE pod is carried beneath the MQ-9A's left wing stores station. (NAVAIR)

The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has fast-tracked an order to provide US Marine Corps (USMC) MQ-9A Reaper unmanned air systems (UASs) with an improved airborne network extension (ANE) capability.

In a 3 October announcement, NAVAIR said it had awarded an USD8.4 million contract to multiple vendors for delivery of the SkyTower II (ST II) capability. ST II is a podded ANE solution designed to provide cross-domain communications and data relay capability for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aircraft System Expeditionary (MUX) MQ-9A Block 5-25 Reaper Medium Altitude Long-Endurance air vehicle.

The MUX programme of record includes a family of unmanned systems and capabilities in various stages of development and deployment, directly supporting both the USMC Force Design 2030 and the concept of operations for ‘great power competition' in the US Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility. Planned to enter service in late fiscal year (FY) 2023, the MQ-9A will initially be equipped with the SkyTower I (ST I) ANE pod to enable the sharing of information across multiple waveforms and data networks.

ST I comprises a mesh network manager AN/ASC-43(V) gateway and line-replaceable units, complemented by encrypted wireless links, end-user devices, and electronic maintenance aids/computer resources. When deployed with the ST I capability, the MQ-9A will serve as a critical link between aviation and ground combat elements, providing enhanced multidomain situational awareness and command-and-control.

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