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US Air National Guard to Upgrade MQ-9 Reaper

The US Air National Guard (ANG) has announced a partnership with Department of Defense contractors and academia to retrofit its MQ-9 Reaper drones, adding additional capabilities.

The upgrades include battlefield and airspace communications enhancements, as well as target identification tracking and processing, an official at the Guard’s 174th Attack Wing stated.

The General Atomics aircraft will be fitted with three additional pods: the Freedom Pod, Centerline Avionics Bay Pod, and the REAP Pod.

Upgrade to Improve Communication With Other Aircraft

The pods will enhance the aircraft’s command and control capabilities and help it better communicate with fourth and fifth-generation fighters during operations.

As part of the ANG initiated and funded upgrade, the retrofitted aircraft will be tested during Pacific Command’s premier Exercise Northern Edge at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska from May 3-14 this year.

Separate Upgrade Program

Meanwhile, in a separate development, the USAF announced last month that it is also upgrading its fleet of MQ-9 Reapers.

The enhancement aims to increase the aircraft’s effectiveness against near-peer adversary threats, the service stated.

According to the plan, the service has placed an order for the upgraded MQ-9 Multi-Domain Operation (M2DO) aircraft to the manufacturer. The air force is also retrofitting a portion of its existing Reapers to the M2DO configuration.

MQ-9 Reaper drone
The MQ-9 Reaper is set to receive a suite of upgrades to allow the platform to offer a host of new capabilities for combatant commanders and warfighters around the world. Photo: US Air Force

“Working with Air Combat Command and other stakeholders, the MQ-9 enterprise will add new capabilities to the platform to help ensure the MQ-9 is able to support these missions in the threat environment we envision,” said Lt. Col. Nick Jordan, MQ-9 production and retrofit materiel leader.

“The user has directed us to add technology into the platform which signals that the MQ-9 can offer more capability than just C-VEO operations over the next 10 to 15 years. It can remain relevant with these added and upgraded technologies.”

Upgrade Includes New Open Architecture Design

The retrofit will enable the aircraft to execute “command and control mission assurance and resiliency while the aircraft is airborne.”

The upgrade will also increase the craft’s onboard electrical power. Developers are working on a new open architecture design for the platform, allowing it to incorporate new capabilities in response to emerging threats.

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