The Department of Defense announced on July 13 that US Special Operations Command has awarded a $30.5 million contract to Area-I, LLC for the purchase of an unspecified quantity of the ALTIUS unmanned aerial system. ALTIUS, which stands for Agile-Launch, Tactically-Integrated, Unmanned System, is a line of three different products: the ALTIUS-600, -900, and -500. The ALTIUS-600 has been a focus in recent US Army exercises, including: Project Convergence 20 and 21; EDGE 21 and 22. At these exercises, the ALTIUS-600 was launched from the back of a Polaris Dagor, from a UH-60 Blackhawk, and from a stationary pneumatic catapult on the ground. These tests demonstrated the different conditions the ALTIUS-600 could launch in.
Special Operations Command, as part of their ongoing Armed Overwatch project, has expressed a need for “air launched effects”, or ALEs, to serve as an expendable intelligence collection asset. The hope for these ALEs is to extend the range past the horizon for a variety of intelligence collection tasks, from visual-spectrum imagery to signals intelligence and synthetic aperture radar imagery. A video published by the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command displays a hypothetical scenario: four air-launched effects modeled after the ALTIUS-600 being utilized to keep manned aircraft and soldiers on the ground out of harm’s way while intelligence about threats in the area was collected.
In the fiscal year 2023 budget estimate for Special Operations Command, under the section titled Future Vertical Lift (FVL), the objective to integrate ALEs into the FVL program is planned for FY2023. The budget document states that this would be given an allocation of about $10 million USD. Future Vertical Lift, a joint-service program led by the US Army, seeks to develop and purchase a new vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The FVL program, which began in 2009, is searching for a replacement to several different aircraft currently in widespread use across the United States military. FVL is split into two different contract programs: Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), to replace the UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-1 Huey; and Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), to replace the AH-64 Apache. Currently, there have been two demonstrator aircraft shown for FLRAA (Bell V-280 Valor and Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant), and two for FARA (Sikorsky S-97 Raider and Bell 360 Invictus).
The ALTIUS-600 that has seen much use by the Army at recent exercises is a tube-launched, small form-factor UAS that has a reported endurance of over 4 hours, and a range of 440 kilometers. Area-I’s other two models of the ALTIUS line, the 500 and 900, have yet to be tested by DoD. The ALTIUS-500 is designed to launch from a standard A-size sonobuoy launch canister, and the ALTIUS-900 is designed to launch from a pneumatic catapult either located on the ground or on a vehicle.