A New Spy Plane Could Spot Targets For The U.S. Army’s Thousand-Mile Weapons
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The U.S. Army has new, experimental spy planes and the service is flying them over the western Pacific near China.
It’s pretty obvious why. The Army is trying to figure out its role in a possible war between the United States and China, and buying high-tech new equipment to support that role. Giant artillery pieces. Super-fast rockets.
But all the fancy new cannons and missiles need targets to shoot at. New surveillance planes could help spot those targets.
The Army revealed the Artemis spy plane in a social-media post on Aug. 6. Artemis is a Bombardier Challenger 650 twin-engine business jet packed with sensors. It’s the Army’s first jet-propelled surveillance plane. The service’s other aircraft are propeller-driven.
Artemis carries a High-Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System, or HADES—a sensor suite combining a powerful ground-scanning radar and sensitive electronic-intelligence receivers.
The radar spots moving targets such as tanks and presumably also could detect ships. The receivers can pinpoint enemy radars. Flying at 40,000 feet, the sensors could scan for hundreds of miles in all directions. “Deep sensing,” the Army calls it.
Artemis “provides high-altitude sensing capabilities against near-peer adversaries and bridges gaps in the multi-domain operations mission,” the Army’s Program Executive Office, Aviation stated on social media.
“Multi-domain operations” is military jargon for missions that combine, say, air and ground forces or sea, air, and space forces — troops working in different “domains.” The Army’s main multi-domain missions are missile-defense and long-range fires.
Long-range fires could involve far-firing artillery or surface-to-surface rockets. The Army is developing several new long-range artillery systems, including the wheeled Strategic Long-Range Cannon that could hit targets a thousand miles away.
Other new fires include an upgraded self-propelled howitzer firing rocket-assisted shells out to 40 miles, a multiple-launch rocket reaching 300 miles or more, and a hypersonic ballistic missile that could slam into targets from more than 1,000 miles away.
The Strategic Long-Range Cannon and the hypersonic rocket could represent two of the Army’s main contributions to a war in the western Pacific. A Mach-5-plus missile, in particular, could “strike targets in China that could otherwise only be attacked using air or maritime platforms,” the California think-tank RAND noted.
But long-range fires pose a targeting problem. You’ve got to locate a distant target before you can strike it. It was that problem that drove the Army’s investment in Artemis and HADES. “These will allow stand-off operations to detect, locate, identify and track critical targets for the ground commander,” the Army stated.
Air Force planes, U.S. Navy ships and U.S. National Reconnaissance Office satellites also could spot targets for the Army’s thousand-mile weapons. But the ground-combat branch likes to have its own targeting systems, just in case.
And it’s worth noting that the Army and Air Force strongly disagree on the usefulness of spy planes in a major war. The Air Force has decided that large surveillance aircraft—E-8 ground-scanning radar planes, in particular—are too vulnerable to survive in intensive combat, which is why the service is trying to get rid of many of its non-stealthy spy planes.
The Army disagrees—at least when it comes to Artemis. “When the risk is high, they’re probably going to fly this thing in a way where it’s going to maintain a safe distance and still be able to do its job,” Christian Keller, the Army’s project director for sensors and aerial intelligence, told reporter Steve Trimble.
The Artemises’ initial missions over the Pacific are a temporary proof of concept. The Challenger airframe itself could be temporary. The Army plans to field around 10 larger Artemis planes starting in 2028. The production Artemises could use Boeing 737 or Gulfstream G550 airframes.
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