Innovative California Firm Enhances US Military Training with Advanced Prototype Aircraft

In a significant stride towards bolstering military training capabilities, Tehachapi-based Sierra Technical Services (STS) has secured a noteworthy contract worth $77.1 million from the Pentagon. The contract, awarded on August 4th, is aimed at delivering an innovative prototype uncrewed aerial target aircraft. This advanced aircraft is specifically designed to mimic the flight traits of the most sophisticated enemy fighter jets, equipping the US military with a powerful tool for pilot training against stealth fighters.

One of the Pentagon’s highlighted criteria for this prototype aircraft is its ability to replicate critical characteristics, including size, signature, and electronic attack payloads. These attributes hold significant sway in terms of acquisition, tracking, and guidance of anti-air systems. Ensuring that these fifth-generation traits are accurately represented in the target platform is crucial for effective testing.

Sierra Technical Services (STS) has previously introduced its experimental 5th Generation Aerial Target (5GAT) concept, defining it as a “high-performance, unmanned, fighter-size aircraft” designed to be “threat representative,” with an emphasis on low observability. The evolution of fifth-generation aircraft such as Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 and China’s Chengdu J-20 has presented a new level of challenge in terms of aerodynamic performance and radar evasion. This prototype aircraft will fill a critical gap in military training by enabling pilots to engage with these advanced capabilities.

“The purpose of aerial targets is to replicate critical characteristics of threat aircraft, such as performance, signature, and countermeasures,” notes the STS contract announcement. While operational fifth-generation assets like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 and F-35 can be utilized for adversary air (ADAIR) training, their limited numbers and high operational costs make it impractical for extensive training. The prototype aircraft from STS addresses this gap, offering a cost-effective solution for training needs and live fire testing of air-to-air weapons and electronic warfare systems.

The innovative remotely-piloted craft, known as the 5th Generation Aerial Target (5GAT), is a dedicated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) crafted to replicate the flight performance of advanced fighters such as the Su-57 and J-20. Founded in 2006 by former Lockheed Martin Skunk Works engineers Roger and Debra Hayes, STS has been diligently developing the 5GAT since 2008.

The 5GAT is built around a 95% carbonfibre airframe, housing two afterburning jet engines for exceptional performance. Despite an initial setback during flight testing, where the prototype was lost due to an undiscovered software error, the aircraft’s configuration and design have been deemed sound by military officials.

Roger Hayes, President of STS, confirmed the contract via LinkedIn, highlighting that the deal includes the fabrication of two aircraft. “Sierra Technical Services was just awarded a new contract to incorporate design improvements, build and flight-test two more 5th Generation Aerial Targets,” he stated.

With this contract, Sierra Technical Services is making remarkable contributions to US military training by providing an advanced prototype aircraft capable of effectively simulating the complexities of fifth-generation fighter jets. This innovation underscores the dedication of STS towards enhancing military preparedness and performance.

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