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ASC18: Insitu Disrupting the Status Quo

Air Force Association’s 2018 Air, Space & Cyber Conference

The buzz this Monday on the conference exhibition floor was Insitu’s (a Boeing company) introduction of its INTEGRATOR Extended Range (ER) UAS to the US Air Force community. Esina Alic, Insitu’s CEO and President, told conference delegates at her booth, that her high-level vision of the INTEGRATOR ER is, “an extended range, multi-domain, multi-INT [AIS, SIGINT, others] platform that has inter-changeable modules that can be changed in the field. As with other Insitu platforms it is runway independent, and is acoustically and visually undetectable at tactical altitudes.”

With respect to modularity, in one case, the ER variant’s EO 900 turret (EO camera and EO telescope) is the same one flown on Insitu’s ScanEagle. A short list of other Insitu mission modules viewed as candidates for integration on Integrator ER payloads include EO 4 and -5, as well as, “dozens and dozens of different SIGINT payloads,” according to Don Williamson, Vice President and General Manager for Insitu Defense. All INTEGRATOR ER modules are field replaceable, not needing intervention by a service depot or Insitu.  

Ms Alic also termed INTEGRATOR ER a, “theatre-range platform,” but, “at a fraction of cost, at a fraction of the footprint compared to today’s ISR assets in the field.”

Indeed, the industry executive further projected that in the next few months, “we are going to talk about more capabilities Insitu is going to produce for our customers.” 

Mr. Williamson, anticipates Integrator ER, “will be a significant transition from the way its existing customers do business and will be an enticing option for new users.”

As justification, the industry subject matter expert said before today, “all tactical, small UASs had been restricted to between 50-70nm [93-130km] due to their line-of-sight radio frequency limitations, with satellite communications equipment reserved for aircraft weighing upwards of 10,000lbs [4536kg].”

INTEGRATOR ER was noted to be one culmination of recent efforts to reduce the size, weight and power of onboard satellite equipment, coupled with the generational improvement in high-throughput satellite data. Rigorously tested in the last year, INTEGRATOR ER, “routinely achieves bandwidth input of up to 10 megabits/sec, with less than 1.5 sec. latency” – outcomes reported to be better or equivalent, than current, large UASs.

The 145lb INTEGRATOR ER’s ranges are 200 nm with 10 hours of on-station time, or 300 nm with six hours on-station time, ranges heretofore achievable only by larger, more expensive UASs. “We expect more endurance in our Phase II system,” Mr Williamson predicted.

In terms of INTEGRATOR ER being more affordable than larger, legacy UASs, the Insitu executive emphasized: “Full service, contractor operations will cost about one-third of contracted unmanned, medium-altitude unmanned systemmes in operations today.”

Indeed, reducing the manpower footprint for INTEGRATOR ER operations, when compared to legacy systemmes, was cited as providing the end-user with more mission flexibility. 

On the topic of legacy aircraft, the baseline INTEGRATOR ER is a derivative of Insitu’s INTEGRATOR and RQ-21 Blackjack program of record, currently in full-rate production. As of this article’s posting, 31 BlackJack systems were being flown with US Marine Corps and US Navy units.

Mr Williamson added: “The aircraft is very well proven in both the maritime and land domains. What we have done is have developed a SATCOM-optimized load module, a full-load optimized cargo bay and the associated ground equipment for satellite BLOS [beyond line-of-sight] communications. There is tremendous commonality with all of our Insitu products.”

ScanEagle is in 27 countries with multiple customers. 

To feed the defence and intelligence communities’ insatiable appetite for more, higher quality full-motion video, Integrator II was reported to deliver FMV on par with current ISR systems, while at acoustically and visually undetectable altitudes. Further, the use of newer, high throughput satellites offers more secure, jam resistant networks than current, traditional unmanned systemmes.

From a business case perspective, INTEGRATOR ER is being offered to the US Air Force as one, immediate option to free up more expensive, aviation strike assets from ISR missions in challenging regions around the globe. As of the 17 September AFA event, the !air Flforce had not issued a formal requirement for this latest Insitu product.

Whereas, INTEGRATOR ER and ScanEagle 2 are presently under US Government International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) controls, ScanEagle 3 is ITAR free. Accordingly, INTEGRATOR ER would be delivered to a prospective US defence customer on a contractor-owned, contractor-operated business model.  

Mr Williamson concluded: “We think there is a great demand for INTEGRATOR ER internationally and we are pursuing this as well.”    

In an exclusive interview with MONCH, Ms Alic, further reiterated Insitu is a global company, in terms of non-US customers, and the theatres of operations in which Insitu’s products are present. And while Insitu has international partners including Orbital Australia Pty, there will continue to be other opportunities for non-US companies, within ITAR protocols, to partner with Insitu. 

The Insitu leader looked beyond INTEGRATOR ER at Insitu’s entire portfolio, and predicted there would be, “a lot more innovation to come from Insitu in terms of technologies and platforms. The focus is on changing the status quo, from how we think about the liability of a platform to how we think about the range of capabilities of a platform, how they are interoperable and how we can provide new missions, like with INTEGRATOR ER. We’re disrupting the status quo. Stay tuned!”

Marty Kauchak

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