The next-generation platform General Atomics is pitching to replace the Air Force's MQ-9 Reapers will leverage open architecture, artificial intelligence, advanced propulsion and other sophisticated technologies to enable reduced life-cycle costs, cross-domain communication, persistent operations and more, according to a statement the company shared with Inside Defense today.
The Air Force revealed in February a surprise plan to end its Reaper production line early and later released a request for information in June to develop an acquisition strategy for a new intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike unmanned aerial system.
General Atomics' description of its research and development plans aligns the company's offering with the Air Force's joint all-domain command and control goals -- in which every sensor connects with every shooter on a shared network, bolstered by emerging information and networking technologies.
"In the dynamic future-force mix of manned and unmanned systems, we envision next-gen ISR/strike as a conduit, supplier, and consumer of information," General Atomics President David Alexander said in the company's statement. "We believe it is imperative that future unmanned systems are able to communicate, share information, and collaborate -- together, and intuitively with their human counterparts -- across systems and domains in record time."
According to Alexander, General Atomics' focus on automation and autonomy -- key enablers of JADC2 and the Air Force's Advanced Battle Management System -- will not only reduce manpower requirements but also alleviate stress on the military's network in contested environments, allowing personnel to focus on essential tasks.
He also aligns the company's R&D with the service's demands for reduced dependence on runways or fixed-base infrastructure via the military's agile combat employment concept.
General Atomics' automatic takeoff, landing and remote taxi advancements, for example, eliminate the need for forward-deployed launch and recovery crews. Further, its multimission control capability enables commanders to control up to six drones with just one pilot.
These capabilities will be augmented, Alexander states, by advanced propulsion technology that provides its new platform with "ultra-long endurance and an ability to stay engaged in the fight far longer than current-generation UAS."
General Atomics did not immediately respond to a request for more specific details on the propulsion system or its other enabling technologies.