Lockheed Martin has upgraded its Airborne Multi-INT Lab (AML) flying testbed which is used to test intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. BILL READ FRAeS reports.

Earlier this year, US defence and aerospace company Lockheed Martin announced that it had upgraded its Airborne Multi-INT Lab (AML) manned airborne testbed to enhance its ability to deliver decision-quality intelligence to customers. First introduced in 2009 as a self-funded project based on a modified Gulfstream III business jet, the AML was designed as an aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) lab to offer customers a flexible system to test new technologies designed to transform ‘data into intelligence’.

Sensors and systems

The AML can be used to test the interaction between a wide variety of sensors and systems.

Designed to operate between 15,000 and 40,000ft, the AML is intended to be an easily reconfigurable platform to analyse the interaction between multiple sensors and onboard systems and how they can be used in both military and non-military markets. Equipped with a full suite of data collection systems, wideband and narrowband data-links, the AML is fitted with ample rack space and payload bays to enable different types of equipment, sensors, processors and communications equipment to be swapped in and out. The AML also has a radome on the belly of the aircraft with sufficient space for a mix of sensors, four onboard workstations and a computing capability that can support most commercial operating systems. Sensors include electro-optical/ infrared systems, synthetic aperture radar, electronic intelligence and communications intelligence, together with various communications apertures. An open software and hardware architecture permits rapid, affordable technology insertion.

In addition to the aircraft, the AML also has a ground station and a tactical data link which can be integrated into intelligence networks. The mission system utilises an implementation approach to support net-centric interfaces to other systems.

In 2012 Lockheed signed an agreement with the Italian Ministry of Defence to use the AML and three ground stations to test and evaluate integrated airborne systems for command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

Capability update

Different systems can be easily swapped in and out of the AML.

After clocking up over 4,000 mission hours since the AML’s introduction into service, Lockheed has now upgraded the platform’s on-board processing capability to allow it to collects and correlate disparate types of sensor data, such as integrating electro-optical sensors with synthetic aperture radar. The improved systems now feature an autonomous sensor control mode that can co-ordinate operations between the testbed's various onboard sensors. This mode now allows operators to focus on mission planning and operational issues while detailed execution is handled autonomously.

In addition, the flying testbed's mission system now features a cognitive processing capability that enables rapid adaptation to a changing target environment. Upgrades were also made to the AML's open, ‘plug-and-play’ architecture to extend the system's ability to integrate with existing ground architectures and allow additional new software and hardware to be integrated in a matter of hours.

The purpose of the platform is to provide a platform for advanced research and realistic testing and to demonstrate emerging intelligence, communications, networking and sensors capabilities which could improve strategic and tactical responsiveness for military, strategic and homeland security forces. The AML can also be used to investigate concepts of operation (CONOPS) for getting information through various battlefield networks to ‘warfighters at the edge’.

From flying testbed to ’ISR as a Service’

The ISR capabilities of the AML have been used by the Italian Ministry of Defence.

Looking to the future, Lockheed Martin says that the upgraded sensor technology aboard the AML is currently being evaluated by the US Government. Since 2012 the company has offered ’ISR as a Service’ in which the capability is rented out the to third parties who need surveillance capabilities for a short time. This contracted ISR service for installation onto a range of fixed wing aircraft and UAVs has been marketed under the name of ‘Dragon series’.


Bill Read
5 May 2017

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