The MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) has flown for the first time equipped with the Reaper Defense Electronic Support System (RDESS).

The U.S. Air Force, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) and L3Harris Technologies collaborated to give the RPA this new capability. Crews from the Air Force’s 26th Weapons Squadron (WPS) flew an MQ-9 equipped with RDESS recently. The flights were conducted in parallel with the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) demonstrations recently in Europe, the company said in a release Thursday.

RDESS is a broad spectrum, passive Electronic Support Measure (ESM) payload designed to collect and geo-locate signals of interest from standoff ranges. With it, the Reaper becomes an even more versatile surveillance aircraft given its ability to conduct electronic sensing well enough to provide high quality intelligence but also keep safely away in friendly or international airspace. The flights were accomplished via remote split operations that allowed the 26th WPS to both fly the aircraft and control the RDESS payload from within the United States while the MQ-9 flew in Europe.

Additionally, the aircraft flew with a high-capacity, solid-state digital recorder to collect Multi-Spectral Targeting pod data that will be used to further Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) development.

Reaper Upgrades: MQ-9 Multi-Domain Operation (M2DO) Aircraft

On April 21, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) announced plans to upgrade Reapers.

The Air Force will award the first delivery order of planned MQ-9 Multi-Domain Operation (M2DO) aircraft – which will include several new upgrades from previous production builds– to GA-ASI in April 2021. The Air Force is also retrofitting a portion of the already fielded MQ-9 fleet to the same M2DO configuration.

The MQ-9 Program Office is already completing initial fleet retrofits that will mitigate potential jamming to the platform. This is the first retrofit of many, as MQ-9 M2DO configured aircraft will receive additional closely-held capabilities that will enable Command and Control mission assurance and resiliency while the aircraft is airborne.

Additionally, the MQ-9 team will increase the electronic power for the platform.  This increase, coupled with concurrent development efforts to create an open architecture design for the platform, will allow the Air Force to rapidly integrate new capabilities in response to emerging threats identified by Combatant Commanders.

Other M2DO enhancements include upgrades to the electro-optical/infra-red sensor and will expand the types of weapons the platform will be able to carry.

The Air Force expects the MQ-9 to remain operationally viable for world-wide operations through the end of the platforms projected service life of 2035 with these upgrades.

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