The future of Army deep sensing

By Daniel BaldwinJanuary 19, 2024

HADES conceptual image
A conceptual image of a High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System (HADES) jet. HADES will be globally deployable and provide a multi-faceted sensing capability on higher altitude, longer endurance manned aircraft than the Army’s existing fleet. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army graphic) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Since the publication of the joint Army/Marine Corps Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) white paper in 2016, there has been a fundamental shift from supporting counterinsurgency to focusing on emerging near peer threats and supporting MDO efforts. As a leader in the procurement of state-of-the-art equipment and aerial sensor technology, Project Director Sensors-Aerial Intelligence (PD SAI) is working to deliver on the Secretary of the Army’s priority to provide the ability to see farther, see more, and see more persistently than our enemies and build the Army of 2030.

The Army recognizes its existing fleet of turboprop aircraft is not adequate to meet requirements for the MDO against peer and near-peer adversaries. To replace these systems, the Army is pursuing the Multi-Domain Sensing System (MDSS) High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System (HADES) program.

“MDSS HADES will be the first program coming out of the MDSS family of systems and has successfully gone through the required Army acquisition shaping panel and was approved for program initiation in February 2023” said Dennis Teefy, PD SAI. “Through the HADES program, the Army will build a fleet of aerial ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] systems with SIGINT [signals intelligence], SAR/MTI [synthetic aperture radar/moving target indicator], and additional built-in capabilities.”

The MDSS HADES will be globally deployable and provide a multi-faceted sensing capability on higher altitude, longer endurance manned aircraft than the Army’s existing fleet, providing stand-off from enemy anti-access/area denial systems. HADES will address Army requirements for medium to high altitude aerial ISR capabilities to rapidly gain and maintain situational understanding, freedom of maneuver, information overmatch, and decision advantage in the MDO.

In preparation for HADES, PD SAI has partnered with Project Manager Fixed Wing (PM FW) to demonstrate and operationally deploy jet-based ISR sensing on their contractor-owned and operated Airborne Reconnaissance and Targeting Multi-Mission System (ARTEMIS) and Aerial Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES) systems. By collaborating with PM FW, PD SAI can evaluate the ISR sensors on the demonstrator platforms to help inform HADES program requirements. PD SAI will collect and analyze feedback about how the sensors operate on the demonstrators at the altitudes, speed, and ranges that HADES is expected to perform.

“PD SAI supports these efforts through the development and procurement of ELINT, COMINT [communications intelligence], and SAR sensors,” Teefy said. “We are responsible for delivering these sensors to the contracted lead system integrator as government-furnished equipment for use on PM FW platforms.”

Additionally, the Army is pursuing the Army Theater level High Altitude Expeditionary Next Airborne ISR Radar/Signals Intelligence (ATHENA-R/S) jet platforms as a bridging strategy to meet operational requirements until HADES is fielded.

“The goal is to provide deep-sensing intelligence collection of indicators and warnings, electronic order of battle, and patterns of life for target development,” Teefy said. “This will allow standoff operations to detect, locate, identify, and track critical targets for the ground commander. This effort is in support of the Army G-2 and ISR Task Force’s Modernization Strategy.”

HAP/DS conceptual image
A conceptual image of high-altitude balloons (top) and high-altitude solar gliders (bottom) that will make up the High-Altitude Platform-Deep Sensing (HAP/DS) program. HAP/DS will comprise the high-altitude layer of the Multi-Domain Sensing System family of systems and will be a Multi-Domain Operations-capable low-signature, high-altitude platform(s) operating in the stratosphere that will enable penetration into highly defended threat operational areas. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army graphic) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Army Field Manual (FM) 2-0: Intelligence, the Army’s keystone manual for military intelligence, defines Deep Sensing as “the employment of capabilities beyond the division coordinated firing line to collect data and information that supports targeting, situational understanding, or decision making.”

“The integration of HADES will allow the Army to fly higher, faster, and farther, which directly impacts our ability to see and sense deeper, delivering an organic collection capability aligned with the strategic tenants of FM 2.0,” said Andrew Evans, Director of the Army ISR Task Force. “This in turn enables the Army to provide increased collection capability to service organic collection requirements while simultaneously contributing to All-Domain awareness as a member of the Joint Force.”

Following HADES will be the High-Altitude Platform-Deep Sensing (HAP/DS) as the next MDSS program of record. HAP/DS will comprise the high-altitude layer of the MDSS family of systems and will be an MDO-capable low-signature, high-altitude platform(s) (i.e., stratospheric balloons/solar fixed wing aircraft) operating in the stratosphere that will enable penetration into highly defended threat operational areas. The Army is currently in the campaign of learning stage for the program.

HAP/DS platforms may operate as individual platforms or in concert within a formation of platforms to provide sustained sensor delivery on target in support of long-range precision fires in operational and strategic deep fires areas. Once HAP/DS is deployed, it will provide multi-function sensor capabilities, including electronics intelligence, communications intelligence, SAR/MTI, and electro-optical/infrared with additional sensor capabilities in the future.

Additional MDSS capability acquisitions are being planned as part of the Army’s Future Years Development Plan. In particular, the Army Futures Command plans to advance the state-of-the-art for SIGINT and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) (e.g., SAR/MTI radar) sensor payloads through two new programs respectively called the High Efficiency RF Monitoring and Exploitation System (HERMES) and Aerial GEOINT System (ARGOS).

Once complete, HERMES and ARGOS will support the uncrewed aircraft systems owned by Project Manager Uncrewed Aircraft Systems.

These two programs will initially rely on technology developments in the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center to advance new cutting-edge technologies that outcompete the threat, and then will enable acquisition and integration of those new technologies onto existing HADES, HAP/DS, and other platforms. With requirements based on lessons learned from existing aerial ISR programs and from experimentation and quick-reaction capabilities, these MDSS payloads will provide SIGINT and GEOINT on future platforms to maximize operational flexibility and reduce their complexity and cost.

“Strategies are aspirational unless you have folks who can successfully convert concepts to capabilities,” Evans said. “Our partnership with PD SAI remains vital in delivering on the strategic aims of our modernization mission, focusing on providing the Army's premiere aerial ISR sensors on our current and future platforms. The material developers in Maryland add the rigor of acquisition oversight and system test/validation to ensure that the tools we give our Soldiers represent the very best of America's science and engineering know-how.”