USAF releases solicitation for the MQ-9's replacement

US Air Force relaunches effort to replace MQ-9 Reaper drone – link

Source: Defense News

Article Headlines

  • On June 3, the Air Force issued a request for information on a next-generation unmanned aircraft with strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, with the intent to accept delivery of the first systems in 2030 and field them in 2031
  • The Air Force is looking to collect market research on existing technologies as well as systems that are currently under development, with a focus on drones that incorporate advanced technologies such as autonomy, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital engineering and open-mission systems
  • In addition, the service is open to attritable technologies — meaning systems that are not cheap enough to be considered expendable, but some losses are still expected in combat
  • “The Air Force is also interested in researching alternative ways to support future lower-end, lower-cost ISR missions which may include initiatives to modernize, augment, and/or replace existing systems,” the RFI stated. “This RFI inquires about unique and innovative practices that can deliver relevant capability efficiently, timely and at a reduced life-cycle cost.”
  • Although the Air Force has not solidified an acquisition strategy, it intends to hold multiple competitions for the air vehicle itself, as well as its ground control systems and the suite of sensors and data exploitation technology it will use to collect and dissect information. Each technology area will be built to open-architecture standards
  • Responses to the RFI are due July 20
  • This latest effort would mark the second time the Air Force has tried to replace the MQ-9 Reaper. In its first attempt, known as MQ-X, the service sought to procure a more survivable combat drone that could operate in contested spaces where a Reaper cannot fly. The program was canceled in 2012
  • Finding a single replacement to fill the MQ-9′s strike and surveillance mission is unlikely as the service wants to be able to operate in all environments without solely relying on exquisite, pricey systems. The service may need a family of systems that includes high-end, military-specific drones as well as cheaper UAVs that could be sourced from the commercial unmanned systems market

Overview & Comments

  • Current operational, mainstream, MALE / HALE UASs are great at their contribution in asymmetric theatres
  • However, recent events, as well as rising operational requirements dictate that their contribution to potential areas of operations will not be as effective – ie the downing of the MQ-4C by Iran
  • A conflict with a state player is more than possible these days than in previous years. State actors such as Iran, North Korea or even Russia & China with relevance to various geographical areas of interest
  • State actors with advanced air defense layers that common UAS will not be able to operate in without almost full air superiority
  • Aside from straight-forward air defense systems, UAVs obtain additional “soft-spots” that will be targeted by potential foes. For example, the datalink, satellites & fixed GCSs
  • Until advanced UCAVs / “Loyal Wingman” systems will be fully operational there is still more that can be accomplished with today’s systems in order to better cope with rising threats
  • At ABG-SC we constantly monitor and study new technologies coupled with rising operational requirements. Contact to learn more.
  • See “Abrupt End to MQ-9 Production Surprises general Atomics” 
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