Israel is developing an AWACS (Airborne Early Warning Aircraft) UAV on a Gulfstream G500 business jet platform. The plane, dubbed the G550, will be equipped with the Israeli Phalcon radar system and satellite data links. Ground-based personnel will operate all equipment onboard.
The aircraft will come equipped with automated flight controls. Flight Control Systems have been developed that can land and fly commercial aircraft to their destination automatically. Global Hawk, the largest UAV in service, already has automated landing, flight and take-off systems. The ground operator just manoeuvres the UAV around on the ground, before takeoff and after landing. The Gulfstream 550 UAV would use such flight control software. The addition of cameras in the cockpit would enable ground operators to see what pilots normally did.
Most of the equipment and space used for maintaining people on board would now be removed, which would extend air-time for the aircraft, and also provide space to carry additional equipment. Since the Gulfstream 500 platform already exists it would be a very cost-competitive alternative to developing a new UAV AWACS platform from scratch.
Last year, Israel put its first Gulfstream 550 AWACS into service. It uses a Phalcon conformal phased array radar, built into the lower fuselage, SIGINT equipment that will capture and analyse enemy electronic transmissions and a communications system that can handle satellite signals as well as a wide array of other transmissions. The aircraft carries a crew of six to handle all this gear, along with the flight crew. This system is priced at about $375 million.
The Gulfstream G550 aircraft is an upgrade of the G500, and can stay in the air for over twelve hours per sortie, with a service ceiling of 51,000 feet. The G500/550 is a larger version of the Gulfstream G400, which the US Army uses as the C-20H transport. The US Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy also use military versions of the Gulfstreams.
The 96 foot long aircraft has two engines and was built for long flights exceeding 11,000 kilometres. The Israeli Air Force operates six older Phalcon aircraft based on the Boeing 707 airframes.
The Gulfstream 550 UAV cuts down on the waiting time involved in building a new Global Hawk for an armed force, which would be of around 5-10 years.