Air Force seeks rapid development pipeline for future UAS program

By Sara Sirota / March 8, 2021 at 1:51 PM

The Air Force is expanding its MQ-9 replacement search to focus on establishing a rapid development pipeline that can continuously design and field emerging capabilities as part of a multirole family of unmanned aerial systems.

That includes a mixture of platforms, like those participating in the low-cost attritable aircraft technology, Skyborg and other UAS programs, according to a request for information the Air Force released March 5.

Responses to this RFI, coupled with previous industry engagement on MQ-9 Reaper replacement options, will help the service develop an acquisition strategy that emphasizes multiple competitions for aircraft, ground-control systems, sensors and "data exploitation" technologies, the notice states.

The Air Force wants to field an initial capability package by 2026 or 2027 and follow-on capabilities by 2030. The first three focus areas seek solutions for air domain awareness, high-value airborne asset protection and aircraft that are attritable, expendable, survivable or reusable, according to the RFI.

The air domain awareness category includes sensor networks that use moving target indicators to track enemy air operations in highly contested and contested environments. Solutions in the second focus area, meanwhile, include weapons, electronic warfare, directed-energy and other platform-agnostic systems to defend against long-range adversary fighters and other threats.

The Air Force is also interested in aircraft that can operate autonomously, use software and artificial intelligence for data sharing and secure processing and employ government-owned architectures.

Responses to the RFI are due April 9.