Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) plans to repurpose MQ-9 Reaper drones to function as ‘capital ships’, from which smaller drones launch to create a sensor or communications network. Lt. Gen. Tony D. Bauernfeind shared this vision at AFA’s Air, Space, & Cyber conference, discussing the potential of an extensive drone network under the project named adaptive airborne enterprise (A2E).
- AFSOC’s vision is for MQ-9 Reaper drones to act as primary launch platforms for smaller uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) to set up an expansive sensing or communication grid.
- The overarching project is called the adaptive airborne enterprise (A2E), aiming to transform MQ-9s from mere intelligence and strike platforms to mobile control hubs.
- Currently, controlling multiple drones simultaneously is a challenge due to outdated and inefficient infrastructure, with one MQ-9 requiring over 150 personnel.
- Automation could significantly reduce manpower, with some tasks such as automatic takeoff and landing already in place, increasing Reaper on-station time by 35%.
- The development and expansion of such distributed networks align with the Pentagon’s larger vision of Joint All Domain Command and Control to connect global sensors and shooters.