The U.S. Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper drone has received new capabilities including battlefield and airspace communications enhancements as well as target identification tracking and processing.
On May 6, the Air Force said the 174th Attack Wing has partnered with multiple Department of Defense contractors and academia to lead the effort in establishing new and additional capabilities for the MQ-9 Reaper.
The assistant director of operations at the 174th Operations Support Squadron explained there are three separate pods; the Freedom Pod, Centerline Avionics Bay Pod and the REAP Pod. Each pod is manufactured by a contractor which specializes in its unique function, leveraging expertise from previous programs.
“We are currently doing an operational assessment of new equipment,” the assistant director of operations said. When asked what will come of the aircraft, the assistant director of operations explained it will build future capabilities in additional areas of responsibility.
The pods help the MQ-9 play an increased, more prominent role in the command and control arena of the battlefield. It will be able to receive and pass information to and from older fourth generation and newer fifth-generation aircraft.
This mission is solely an Air National Guard mission funded by The National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account funds. The funds were leveraged for modernization since ANG only operates legacy aircraft.
From May 3-14th, the pods will demonstrate their capabilities onboard a 174TH ATKW MQ-9 focusing on a higher level of integration with additional air and ground based assets during Pacific Command’s premier exercise, Northern Edge, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
The Reaper made its first flight equipped with the Reaper Defense Electronic Support System (RDESS) in late April.
Reaper Upgrades: MQ-9 Multi-Domain Operation (M2DO) Aircraft
On April 21, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) announced plans to upgrade Reapers.
The Air Force will award the first delivery order of planned MQ-9 Multi-Domain Operation (M2DO) aircraft – which will include several new upgrades from previous production builds– to GA-ASI in April 2021. The Air Force is also retrofitting a portion of the already fielded MQ-9 fleet to the same M2DO configuration.
The MQ-9 Program Office is already completing initial fleet retrofits that will mitigate potential jamming to the platform. This is the first retrofit of many, as MQ-9 M2DO configured aircraft will receive additional closely-held capabilities that will enable Command and Control mission assurance and resiliency while the aircraft is airborne.
Additionally, the MQ-9 team will increase the electronic power for the platform. This increase, coupled with concurrent development efforts to create an open architecture design for the platform, will allow the Air Force to rapidly integrate new capabilities in response to emerging threats identified by Combatant Commanders.
Other M2DO enhancements include upgrades to the electro-optical/infra-red sensor and will expand the types of weapons the platform will be able to carry.
The Air Force expects the MQ-9 to remain operationally viable for world-wide operations through the end of the platforms projected service life of 2035 with these upgrades.