General Atomics tests new MQ-9 Reaper system for AI JADC2 ops

By Sara Sirota / February 24, 2021 at 2:25 PM

General Atomics has for the first time flown a new system on the MQ-9 Reaper that will enable the remotely piloted aircraft to use the kind of artificial intelligence and other advanced computing technologies the Air National Guard is pursuing under its Ghost Reaper project.

A company-owned MQ-9A Block 5 aircraft carried a newly developed centerline avionics bay during the Feb. 3 flight test, General Atomics announced in a press release today.

The system was originally intended to provide space on the Reaper for a detect-and-avoid capability, according to the notice. The company now wants to use the avionics bay for AI applications too, as well as to establish an ethernet network with the RPA's outerwing stations, allowing for open-mission capabilities.

"The centerline avionics bay was purpose-built to provide additional volume, platform infrastructure, and cooling provisions for integrating high performance computing (HPC) systems on MQ-9 Block 1 and Block 5 RPA," J.R. Reid, General Atomics' vice president of strategic development, said in the release.

"The CAB will enable the MQ-9 to host government OMS-compliant autonomy, machine learning and eventually, artificial intelligence algorithms and applications," Reid added.

These are the kinds of technologies the ANG is interested in for its Ghost Reaper effort, which seeks to transform the MQ-9 for joint all-domain command and control operations and data-centric warfare as the military shifts focus to Russia and China from counterterrorism, Inside Defense reported in September. ANG is testing payloads for gateway communications and autonomous, AI-driven surveillance and sensing as part of this concept.