The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and General Atomics have successfully demonstrated the MQ-9A Reaper’s capability to air-launch smaller uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), marking a significant advancement in airborne operations. This test is part of the Air Force’s Adaptive Airborne Enterprise (A2E) strategy, aiming to enhance operations in contested environments by leveraging the MQ-9A’s ability to deploy UAVs such as the Anduril Altius 600 in flight. The strategy highlights a shift in operational focus towards preparing for confrontations with near-peer adversaries, moving beyond traditional roles of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and kinetic strikes.
The demonstration underscores a new operational concept where the MQ-9A acts as a “mothership” for launching and controlling smaller UAVs, enhancing ISR and kinetic capabilities while maintaining a safe distance from hostile threats. This capability allows for more versatile and strategic use of UAVs in various missions, including electronic warfare and communication relays. AFSOC’s commitment to the A2E program signifies a future where UAV operators can control swarms of air vehicles, potentially transforming the MQ-9A into a pivotal platform for integrated UAV operations. The continued development under A2E aims to further exploit the potential of UAVs, with plans to introduce the capability for a single operator to control multiple UAV types from austere locations.
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