Global 6500 jet.

Global 6500 jet. Courtesy U.S. Army

Army buys long-range business jet to spy on China, Russia

Prototype spy plane flies higher and farther than current equivalents.

The Army will buy a large-cabin business jet from Bombardier as part of a new intelligence gathering initiative aimed at pairing the Army’s increasingly long-range missiles with more sophisticated targeting systems, the service announced Wednesday. 

The deal buys one Global 6500 jet and includes options to purchase two more over the next three years. The first aircraft will be delivered on Oct. 1, according to an Army press release. It is the Army’s first purchase of a large-cabin business jet, a category of long-range private planes more typically used for luxury travel. 

The acquisition will support ongoing work to develop the Army’s new airborne intelligence collection effort, the High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System, or HADES, according to the press release. 

The Army began experimenting with platforms for HADES in 2020, but purchased services rather than equipment so it could evaluate various vendors. 

As part of the program, the Army looked at two planes, dubbed ARTEMIS and ARES. ARTEMIS packs intelligence collection equipment into the 1400 cubic feet of the Challenger 600 jet, while ARES does the same but with the Global 6500. 

The Global 6500 is newer than the Challenger 600, with a longer range of 6,600 nautical miles—enough to get intelligence equipment to Europe or the Pacific from the continental United States.

The project's names stand for Aerial Reconnaissance and Targeting Exploitation Multi-Mission Intelligence System (ARTEMIS) and Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES). 

The Army currently operates aging turboprop planes for similar types of airborne intelligence collection, such as the Cold War-era Guardrail plane. But such planes are not a match for Chinese or Russian air defenses, Army general Robert Ashley said in 2017. 

Business jets can fly higher than turboprops, which means they have the “ability to sense farther and more persistently into areas of interest,” Col. Joe Minor, project manager for Army fixed-wing aircraft, said in a press release. 

The announcement comes as the Army turns to more advanced precision missiles to maintain its edge in the Pacific. Such missiles require high-quality targeting data, which could be provided by HADES. 

“Deep sensing is the Army’s No. 1 operational imperative for the Army of 2030,” Minor said, referring to efforts to track enemies at a distance. 

The Challenger 600 flying under the ARTEMIS program has patrolled the skies near Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in Feb. 20222. 

The jet has flown almost every day for the last three months from its base in Romania along the border of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. 

U.S. intelligence sharing on Russian military command posts reportedly has helped Ukraine target and kill Russian generals. At least seven have died in Ukrainian attacks.