From Test Jet to Money-Maker: Lockheed’s AML “Net Dragon”
Lockheed is more aggressive than most defense firms in self-funding projects that make sense to them, and the Airborne Multi-Intelligence Laboratory (AML) was their response to the rising popularity of small manned surveillance planes like the USA’s MC-12W Liberty, the MARSS program, etc. Now, their AML is moving from a privately-funded surveillance variant of the Gulfstream III business jet, to a money-making platform, courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Defence.
Under an agreement for an undisclosed sum, Lockheed Martin will provide its AML as a contracted ISR(Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) service “in a live operational environment,” which probably means Afghanistan. The service goes beyond the jet…
Italy’s contract includes full flight crew and maintenance personnel, plus 3 intelligence-processing ground stations, for 1 year. An option could extend the contract to 2 years. The sensor package will include day/night cameras and SIGINT electronic eavesdropping gear, other undiscussed communications and sensor packages, plus any new equipment the Italians choose to add and integrate.
Lockheed Martin says that its AML team includes L-3 Communications Systems-West, Rockwell Collins, FLIR Government Systems, and Finmeccanica’s DRS.
To date, the Gulfstream III AML has been used as a test platform to develop the architecture for swappable sensors that could be packaged in different mounting assemblies, and installed on a wide variety of planes. The firm now markets this offering as its Dragon series, with “Dragon Star” marketed as the modification for Gulfstream III sized jets, and “Net Dragon” as the name for the kind of rent-a-capability service the Italians are buying.
The Italian order will help the firm refine its core architecture, broaden its sensor choices, hone both parties’ understanding of how to operate and use a service like this, and give its Dragon line some operational credentials.
Those credentials may be a useful selling point in non-military markets as well. The mineral surveys of Afghanistan that recently found huge resource deposits used military assets, including magnetic imaging sensors on board P-3 maritime patrol aircraft. Unmanned drones have also shown considerable flexibility, with hunter-killer platforms like the MQ-9 Reaper refitted to take on roles like firefighting assistance. Manned aircraft with packages like the Dragon series offer similar potential, without the issues drones have getting permission to fly in civil airspace.