Join Our Newsletter - Get important industry news and analysis sent to your inbox – sign up to our e-Newsletter here
X

US Air Force upgrading Reapers for near-peer threat

By Harry Lye 22 Apr 2021 (Last Updated April 22nd, 2021 14:18)

The US Air Force (USAF) is upgrading its Reaper uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) to make them better prepared to face near-peer threats rather than their traditional counter-terrorism mission.

US Air Force upgrading Reapers for near-peer threat
MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. Image: US Air Force.

The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) said in a press release: “The MQ-9 is an unmanned aircraft with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike capability, traditionally used for Counter-Violent Extremist Organisation (C-VEO) combat operations. That mission is now shifting.”

The modifications will keep the aircraft relevant throughout its service life until 2035 and will see the Reaper fitted with new jam mitigation capabilities as well as additional ‘closely-held’ capabilities designed to enable ‘command and control mission assurance and resiliency while the aircraft is airborne.’

The USAF is set to award a contract for the delivery of MQ-9 Multi-Domain Operation (M2DO) variants and is retrofitting upgrades to the existing MQ-9 fleet to bring them up to the M2DO standard.

MQ-9 Production and Retrofit materiel leader Lieutenant Colonel Nick Jordan said: “Working with Air Combat Command and other stakeholders, the MQ-9 enterprise will add new capabilities to the platform to help ensure the MQ-9 is able to support these missions in the threat environment we envision.

“The user has directed us to add technology into the platform which signals that the MQ-9 can offer more capability than just C-VEO operations over the next ten to fifteen years. It can remain relevant with these added and upgraded technologies.”

The aircraft is also set to have its electronic power capacity increased. Additional enhancements include an expansion of the weapons systems the Reaper can carry as well as upgrades to its electro-optical/infra-red sensor suite.

The AFLCMC added: “The Air Force projects that with these smart investments the MQ-9 will remain operationally viable for worldwide operations through the end of the platforms projected service life of 2035.

“In conjunction, the Air Force will continue to evaluate options to find a more viable solution in the future.”

The USAF recently began flying MQ-9 Reaper operational sorties from Romania as part of a shift in the aircraft’s mission. The AFLCMC said the upgrades would allow the Reaper to ‘offer a host of new capabilities’ to ‘Combatant Commanders and warfighters around the world.’