General Atomics has developed an unmanned aerial system (UAS) capable of carrying more armament than any current American drone, Breaking Defense reported, citing unnamed sources.
According to the outlet, the US defense manufacturer conducted the maiden flight of the unnamed drone this summer at the company’s Desert Horizon test ground in the Mojave Desert. It added that General Atomics would reveal photos of the drone and its specifications by the end of the year.
Carries 16 Hellfire Missiles
The outlet claims that the drone can carry up to 16 Hellfire missiles, double the capacity of the MQ-1C Grey Eagle and four times that of the MQ-9 Reaper.
It added that the drone’s comparatively short landing and takeoff requirement of 800 feet enables it to launch from “rough airfields, dirt roads, dry riverbeds, or possibly even on board ships.”
The aircraft derives its design from the Grey Eagle, although with longer wings. Like its predecessor, it can take off and land automatically.
The sources acknowledged that brimming the drone with 16 Hellfires will cut down on its endurance, power, and “cooling for sensors or other mission systems,” thus requiring the aircraft to be launched from closer to a target. Once the weight is reduced due to missile discharge, the craft regains its power and endurance.
General Atomics began developing the drone with Army Future Command and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in mind, particularly SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program.
Although SOCOM awarded five companies a contract to develop prototypes in May — a number later whittled down to three — the firm believes that the command may reevaluate contenders after seeing the drone’s capabilities. The drone is also ideal for the Marine Corps or any other expeditionary force, sources told the outlet.