General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) announced on February 5 2024, that it had demonstrated a single aircrew operating multiple MQ-9A Reaper drones.

A separate demonstration  launched a secondary drone from the MQ-9A launch pod while in operation.

In December 2023, the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and GA-ASI conducted a series of demonstrations at Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Air Force Range in New Mexico, showcasing advancements in drone control technology as part of the Adaptive Airborne Enterprise (A2E) concept.

The first demonstration represents an advancement in remotely piloted aircraft control, with a single crew, using the AFSOC RPA Control Suite (ARCS), managing three MQ-9A RPAs simultaneously. 

A second demonstration showcased the MQ-9A’s ability to launch an Altius 600 drone from a launch pod, further expanding its operational capabilities.

The MQ-9 Reaper has an operational ceiling of 15,240 metres (50,000ft), a maximum internal payload of 362.8kg (800lb) and external payload exceeding 1,360.7kg (3,000lb). It can carry up to four Hellfire II anti-armour missiles and two laser-guided bombs (GBU-12 or EGBU-12) and 226.8kg (500lb) GBU-38 JDAM (joint direct attack munition).

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David R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI, emphasised GA-ASI’s strong partnership with AFSOC. “We know our RPA will be a key building block for AFSOC to achieve its A2E vision,” Alexander added. 

The release from GA-ASI goes on to say that AFSOC will acquire MQ-9B drones from GA-ASI for rapid prototyping. AFSOC command plans to operate both MQ-9A and MQ-9B aircraft, along with a range of small UAS, using the ARCS system that was demonstrated.

AFSOC Col. Trey Olman highlighted the significance of these demonstrations in advancing the A2E initiative, particularly noting the breakthrough in controlling multiple RPAs from a single workstation. “This was the first time we were able to demonstrate control of multiple RPAs from a single workstation, which is important in reducing manpower requirements.” 

The demonstrations utilised Satellite Communications (SATCOM) launch and recovery (SLR) technology. The MQ-9As were launched using GA-ASI’s Portable Aircraft Control Stations (PACS) and Ground Control Stations. Once airborne, control of the three MQ-9A drones was transferred from individual GCS units to a single ARCS workstation. The aircraft then performed SATCOM landings using GA-ASI’s Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC).