US Air Force now accepts entries for next-generation drone replacement

The United States Air Force is now accepting entries from private companies for its next-generation drones that will replace the MQ-9 Reaper.

Entries must adhere to several strict specifications from the Air Force. For one, the drones must have AI capabilities, and it must be inexpensive.

The Air Force has been quite reliant on these unmanned aerial systems for several years now. In a request for information post, the Air Force highlights some of the needed specifications. The system must have integrated artificial intelligence, and that it must have both surveillance and strike capabilities.

Next-generation drones

The Air Force has a wide arsenal of these unmanned aerial systems. However, the most commonly used model is the MQ-9 Reaper. The Reaper was first introduced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in 2001, and later enter commission in 2007.

The Air Force plans to keep the Reaper in service within the next decade. However, seeing the fact-paced development of these systems, the Air Force is now looking for its replacement.

Specifically, the Air Force is looking for “open mission systems” or OMS. Essentially, these are systems that feature modular designs and are easy to upgrade. Moreover, there is a strict request that these systems be “attritable” or expendable.

The Air Force uses drones to launch long-range and unmanned attacks. As such, these machines are easy targets for enemies, which is why the service is looking for highly modular systems that are relatively cheap to produce.

Replacement commission and adoption

Once a chosen system meets all the specifications, the soonest it can be added to the budget is by 2022. The Air Force is looking to deploy these MQ-9 replacements into service by 2030.

The Air Force budget up to 2021 stipulates that it has plans to buy 24 more MQ-9 Reapers this year. This will be the last batch of Reapers to be added into the force. The original plan was to buy 363 units but was later cut to just 337.

U.S. Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition Dr. Will Roper told Congress in March the need for new drones. Dr. Roper said that the MQ-9 Reaper does not have the high-end fighting capabilities the armed forces are preparing for.

In June 2019, Houthis rebels in Iran shot down an MQ-9 Reaper. Later in August, Yemen rebels took down another one. Because of these incidents, the U.S. Air Force is looking for newer and more capable drones.

Image courtesy of Air National Guard/Wikimedia Commons


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