L3 Harris and Leidos team up to bid for Army's ATHENA-S recon plane

L3Harris and Leidos have confirmed their intention to team up to develop a proposal for the US Army's future ATHENA-S reconnaissance jet.
Christopher McFadden
The partnership will modify two Bombardier Global 6500 as part of the project.


Defense industry giants L3Harris and Leidos have decided to collaborate to bid for the US Army's planned "Army Theater Level High Altitude Expeditionary Next Airborne-Signals Intelligence" venture (ATHENA-S). According to the US Army, ATHENA-S is vital to its future long-range spying and targeting abilities.

Much-needed recon tech

The Army, C4ISRNET explains, is modernizing its aerial reconnaissance capabilities by phasing out outdated Cold War-era aircraft and transitioning towards more advanced sensors, higher altitude flights, and deeper distance insights. One of the tools being considered in this effort is the ATHENA, which will come in two different versions, the "S" and "R."

“The Leidos-L3Harris team focuses each of our companies’ extensive and diverse talents to achieve mission success with ATHENA-S,” said Tim Freeman, Leidos senior vice president and Airborne Solutions Operations Manager. “With our combined integration, investment, engineering, and design expertise, we look forward to producing a highly-configurable platform with more [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)] capabilities to create an operational picture of the battlefield. The Leidos-L3Harris team is excited to deliver a decision advantage for the US and our allies," he added.

"Together, the Leidos-L3Harris team is the only one with experience designing, integrating, certifying, and operating ISR business jets for the US Army," Leidos explains in a press release. To this end, Leidos and L3Harris plan to customize two Bombardier Global 6500 jets to meet the specific requirements of ATHENA-S. These modifications, Leidos explains, will include radar, electronic, and communication intelligence capabilities. These modifications will enable the aircraft to support US Army missions within the US European Command area of responsibility.

ATHENA-S aims to fill the void between the Army's medium and high-altitude ISR aircraft fleet. It can fly at higher altitudes, cover greater distances, and carry larger payloads. Moreover, ATHENA-S has advanced sensor technology to gather more comprehensive data.

For its part, Leidos is currently running two Leidos Special Mission Aircrafts (LSMAs) to aid the Army's Airborne Reconnaissance Targeting and Exploitation Multi-Mission Intelligence System (ARTEMIS) program, which is supporting the US European Command. The LSMA has advanced sensing electronics that help with threat analysis and enable long-range precision fires.

L3Harris is currently involved in the Army's Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES) program, which supports the US Indo-Pacific Command. As part of this program, L3Harris utilizes a Bombardier Global Series jet. Additionally, L3Harris is participating in Phase 2 of the Army's Multi-Domain Sensing System program. This involves developing, building, integrating, and demonstrating prototype electronic and communications intelligence sensors for the High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System (HADES) program.

Combat China and Russia

ATHENA-S will help significantly boost the US Army's information-collection arsenal in the future. And it cannot come sooner as the Pentagon, and many military analysts, see a potential kinetic conflict with China and Russia becoming almost guaranteed.

“In simplistic terms, it is we, as a country, who need to understand the environment that we’re going to operate in as robustly as possible from as far away as possible,” Mark Kitz, program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare, and sensors, told C4ISRNET. “That’s critical,” he added, “not putting any of our systems or soldiers at risk and doing it in a way that we can understand the operating space at very long distances, especially when you look at Indo-Pacific Command, especially when you look at the target environment in Ukraine," he said.

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