ARTEMIS II: A spy plane that can intercept enemy chatter from 40,000 feet

The modified Bombardier Challenger 650 is intended to be utilized by the US Army.
Jijo Malayil
Leidos Special Mission Aircraft LMSA
Leidos Special Mission Aircraft LMSA

Leidos 

It may look like a standard Bombardier Challenger 650, an ordinary luxury business jet, but extensive modification work done on the inside enables it to act as a spy plane to intercept enemy communications. 

Meet Leidos’ ARTEMIS II, the second aircraft built by Virgina-based defense and technology firm Leidos, intended to be used for surveillance by the US Army. The extensive modifications on the plane, with a new signal processing equipment architecture, modular antennae integration, and air-to-ground communications, enable it to intercept and decipher enemy communications from long distances. 

According to Defence One, the US army had extensively utilized the services of the first ARTEMIS to monitor Russian chatter in the Ukraine war. 

How Artemis missions are more effective

The Challenger 650's ability to fly long distances at higher altitudes keeps these missions relatively risk-free and effective. The aircraft can reach altitudes of over 40,000 feet and "operate at higher airspeeds, allowing deeper signals to gather across a broader area while maintaining an acceptable standoff position," said a release by Leidos. Its 4,000 nautical mile range and nearly ten hours of operational time provide ample time to record enough data. 

The advanced systems on such spy plans help forces to avoid putting manpower and equipment on the ground to intercept enemy conversations in a hostile nation. "One of the biggest benefits for the Army lies in the aircraft's enhanced sensor capabilities. It has tripled the number of data targets that the Army can monitor during a single mission compared to other aircraft," said the release. 

The first ARTEMIS plane has clocked more than 370 missions, averaging six days a week, for surveillance of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. “You’re flying basically in a mow-the-lawn-type pattern for 10 hours [and] you’re collecting massive amounts of data,” Mike Chagnon, deputy group president of Leidos Defense Group told Defence One

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A new age of defense services

The developments are part of the US Army's long-term plans to utilize high-flying surveillance planes under the High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System (HADES) project. According to Defense One, these aircraft are intended to replace turboprops, which were extensively used to gather information on battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

The ARTEMIS project is owned and operated by the contractor. This enables Leidos to be responsible for the entire aircraft lifecycle, including its crew, to provide intelligence data as a service to the Army.

Availing of such services through defense contracts enables the US Army to become more adaptable and reduce downtime in case of breakdowns in systems. "Its simpler maintenance and configuration capabilities make it easier to support mission changes with minimal disruption. Software-defined signal processing equipment enables ground-based operators to change its function during flight." Leidos claims its systems have provided a 92 percent mission capability rate since its inception, and it has managed to fix faulty equipment in 24 hours.