Americans predict serious losses of MQ-9 Reapers and give billions for new ones

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WASHINGTON, (BM) – The life cycle maintenance center for US Air Force aircraft has signed a framework contract with General Atomics, a manufacturer of MALE-class combat drones, the MQ-9 Reaper, learned citing Defence24.

Read more: India intends to acquire American MQ-9 Reaper attack drones

The contract value can potentially reach up to US $ 7.4 billion, which is a staggering amount, comparable to manned aircraft purchasing programs.

However, USD 7.4 billion is only the ceiling to which the US Air Force will be able to place orders at the maximum in the next five years. The program for maintaining the agility and high operational availability of the Reaper fleet is called ARES – Agile Reaper Enterprise Solution. Under the signed provisions, it will be possible to purchase up to 36 MQ-9 in the next five years. In total, it may be up to 180 aircraft. At least a year, the manufacturer is guaranteed to order four Reapers per year.

Making the most of this limit would almost double the ownership of the US air force in terms of this type of aircraft. And this despite the fact that their withdrawal was recently announced, in a relatively short time perspective (in the 1930s) and the search for a successor began. However, the order concerns not only the US armed forces, but also export customers who can obtain machines from this pool under the Foreign Military Sales procedure. In their case, the Reapers are to be delivered in the export variant of the MQ-1A Dash 21.

The contract also includes the purchase of a ground control station, communications terminal, spare parts and support equipment. Under the contract, it will be possible not only to make the necessary additions, but also entire new systems, which could be used, for example, in the future by MALE Polska, still looking for UAVs – under the Zefir program.

Apparently, however, the Americans take into account the losses that the Reaper fleet may suffer in the coming years and therefore want to ensure the liquidity of their replenishment, which – as reported by the signatories of the ARES program – is expected to increase by 35 percent.

These losses would not be surprising if Washington came into a more “hot” conflict with one of its global rivals. Relatively slow and easy to detect machines are ideal platforms for attacking a weakly armed enemy with almost no anti-aircraft weapons, but for combat aviation or advanced air defense they are already easy prey.

Read more: Belgium and UK will cooperate in the use of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAVs

This is mainly due to the shortening of negotiation procedures. Until now, Reapers were purchased after negotiations lasting on average over 12 months, including 26 months during which the systems were produced. Now, when a large framework contract is in force, the procedure for signing another contract under it is reduced to a few days.

It should also be remembered that the Americans, in parallel with the search for successors to the Reapers, are exploring the possibilities of taking new roles by these drones. An example is the recent tests of the ABMS air force management system, during which one of the MQ-9s was armed with an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile and shot down a target simulating a cruise missile.

This meant checking the concept of using this drone as a platform to strengthen the defense of specific areas (e.g. the American continent, where it is rather in vain to look for enemy fighters) against a cruise missile attack.

US presented a successor to its popular MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance UAVs

The General Atomics concern has presented on September 17 the project of the successor to its popular MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance UAVs, which was created in response to the requirements of the US Air Force.

Seeing the little usefulness of the Reaper outside of asymmetric conflicts, the American aviation wants to find a successor within a decade. The US company responded with a completely new jet wing design, which is to stay in the air “much longer than the current UAV”.

The MQ-9A Reaper drones have been in service with the US aviation and the armed forces of many other countries for two decades, but they have evolved from the MQ-1 Predator machines and repeat their layout: a classic airframe with a push propeller and a turboshaft engine.

Such machines have proven themselves in actions against various types of fighters and paramilitary groups, however, they are not very suitable for fighting an enemy with modern air defense systems.

Read more: Russia’s Pantsyr-S Anti-Aircraft System Has Shot Down Two MQ-9 Reaper UAVs

Therefore, evolution goes in two directions. On the one hand, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle appeared, which works with the AH-64E Aapache helicopters, on the other hand, hard-to-detect drones for long-term flights at high altitude are sought.

The US Air Force decided to look for a modern reconnaissance and impact machine by writing an offer inquiry for the successor of the MQ-9A Reaper. The General Atomics proposal is to be a machine that can stay in the air for much longer than the 27 hours that the Reaper achieves, or even 72 hours, during which the Gray Eagle Extended Range can remain at the average altitude. At the same time, the machine is to be difficult to detect and have great autonomy, carrying out most of the tasks independently.

“Our emphasis on automation and autonomy capabilities comes from the understanding that the increased speed and intensity of future hostilities requires an equally flexible and intelligent set of systems – not only to enable minimized operations, but also to reduce the burden on the tactical data exchange network in disputed communication environments. Our next-generation drone will transform the battlefield of the future” said David Alexander, President of General Atomics.

The presented visualization shows another unmanned aerial vehicle in a flying wing system, with a jet engine inlet hidden on the upper surface and slotted engine outlets to lower the thermal signature. The armament will be hidden inside the fuselage, and the high aerodynamic excellence is to ensure spectacular flight durability.

Time will show how much the company will manage to achieve the announced results, based on the airframe design as well as on software and algorithms increasing its autonomy and giving the ability to solve problems without human involvement. For the US Air Force, which has been struggling with an insufficient number of unmanned aerial vehicles for years, this may even be a more important issue.

Read more: Top 5 best combat drones [UAVs] in the world


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