General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has won a contract worth $15.85m to develop, demonstrate and deliver a prototype intelligence, surveillance and reocnnaissance (ISR) capability that can perform a stand-off detection and geolocate enemy air defence systems.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded the contract for this aerial system to be inducted into the US Air Force (USAF). The contractor will work in Poway, California, and the DoD expects the contract to be completed by 10 July 2025. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition, for which two offered were made to the government.

In a fraught geopolitical environment, in which Ukraine has demonstrated its aptitude for preventing indiscriminate Russian strikes, particularly now that the Ukrainian military wages its counter-offensive in the south and east of the country, the US is learning from the importance of air defences. America is keen to overcome air defence capabilities at a time when the world is securing their skies.

Indo-Pacific tension

This ISR capability will prove useful as tensions deepen in the US-China rivalry across the Indo-Pacific, where China has threatens the so-called rules-based order.

The system may employ sophisticated imaging technology, such as electro-optical or infrared (EO/IR) systems. These include advanced sensors to discern targets, such as adversarial integrated air defence systems. In the event of a conflict with China, this will provide critical ISR information regarding China’s defences.

Electro-optical and infrared imaging systems market

GlobalData tells us that the US is the leader in the research and development of military EO/IR systems and related technologies; the country is currently conducting several test programmes and experiments in this sphere.

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The integration of technologically advanced EO/IR systems into modern warfare platforms to obtain information superiority and situational awareness is expected to be a major factor driving the expenditure in this sector. This trend is further supported by increasing investments by major militaries in targeting systems, high resolution payloads, and other systems.

Research in the field of third-generation forward-looking infrared, nonlinear crystals, laser radars, advanced 3D visualisation, persistent surveillance systems, multispectral and hyperspectral sensors, is leading to the creation of more capable EO/IR systems. The EO/IR market is seeing demand from man-portable and airborne platforms, leading to sustained investment in both the segments.