The U.S. Army needs to replace its aging Guardrail recon aircraft, which lacks the functionality and survivability required for an era of great-power competition. It has a long-term plan that involves acquiring a fleet of modified business jets with greater reach and endurance, but between now and when that plan comes to fruition, it needs an interim solution. The program to secure an interim, contractor-operated aircraft is called ATHENA-R, and at least three companies are credible contenders to win the prize. One of them, SNC, proposes a modified Bombardier 6500 that it has dubbed Rapcon-X, a contraction of the phrase “rapidly configurable.” Rapidly configurable in this context means that its diverse sensors and other electronics can be switched out quickly depending on mission requirements. With a modular, open architecture and a software suite that permits interoperability across the joint force, SNC thinks its chances of prevailing on ATHENA-R are good enough that it is investing $200 million in company money to get a head start. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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