Reaper drone successor will be stealthy and have even increased stamina

While Europeans are still scrambling to find out whether to finance the Eurodrone program or to rely once again on the United States for the yet critical field of combat drones, the American company General Atomics, the designer of the drone Predator and its successor the Reaper, presented a sketch of what will be its next model, intended for replace the previous two following the US Air Force's request for information. And the least we can say is that American engineers have not hesitated to reinvent themselves to meet the operational challenges of the next decade.

Because if the MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) MQ1 Predator and MQ9 Reaper drones have demonstrated their incomparable effectiveness in monitoring and attacking targets during low-intensity conflicts, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq, it is clear that their great vulnerability as the conflict intensifies, and that adversaries begin to deploy advanced anti-aircraft weapons. Thus, Americans and Europeans lost Predator and Reaper drones in Libyan skies in recent months, often shot down by the air defenses of opposing factions in this increasingly internationalized civil war. Slow, low maneuvering and lacking a self-protection system, MALE drones only relied on their primary characteristics, altitude and long range, to ensure the mission and their safety. As soon as anti-aircraft systems arrived capable of dealing with targets at this altitude, the massacre began.

MQ 9 Reaper News Defense | Combat drones | MALE drones
General Atomics is the manufacturer of the MALE Predator and Reaper drones in service with more than 10 air forces around the world, including 6 in Europe.

However, high-intensity conflicts, faced with adversaries with high-performance anti-aircraft systems in large numbers, are today the main preoccupation of staffs both in the United States and in Europe, whereas, in the At the same time, the dependence of forces and doctrines vis-à-vis the added value provided by these drones has continued to grow. It was therefore time for the American General Atomics to get out of its comfort zone, to imagine a drone that could provide the services required by the forces, and evolve in this contested environment that is the sky of high intensity conflicts.

Although General Atomics has so far only released an illustration and some general information concerning this new combat system which will replace the Reaper from 2030, several decisive information has emerged. First, to respond to ongoing changes in the nature of conflict, the aircraft manufacturer has added two new key features to its new model: speed and stealth. No more right wing and propellant, the new drone will take the shape of a flying wing, comparable to the US Air Force's B2 Spirit stealth strategic bomber. It will be powered by a turbojet and not a propellant propeller, giving it a much higher speed than its predecessors, while its autonomy will also be widely extended, beyond 45 hours according to the manufacturer's statements.

1098px B2 Spirit closeup News Defense | Combat drones | MALE drones
The flying wing makes it possible to reduce the drag and increase the fuel carrying capacity of equivalent size. This shape also offers some interesting stealth characteristics.

In fact, the new combat drone, which has not yet received its own designation, will not only be able to protect itself better against anti-aircraft systems, but it will also be able to be implemented from much larger bases. away from the objective, an essential capability to operate beyond cruise missile or ballistic missile type systems that can threaten Allied bases, as well as to offer greater flexibility in the absence of regional allies. Not only could it operate from more distant bases, but it will be able to provide transits more quickly, and potentially make the detours necessary to avoid prohibited airspaces. The shape of the flying wing allows, for its part, to have greater stealth, especially against low-frequency radars, and to increase the fuel carrying capacity in the wings, offering greater autonomy. with equivalent dimensions.

The life-size model of the European drone EuroMale News Defense | Combat drones | MALE drones
Europeans are still not able to decide on the construction of the Euromale drone, yet an essential step to hope to avoid technological stall in this strategic area.

Understandably, General Atomics has been able to start from a blank sheet of paper to redefine the concept of a MALE combat drone capable of operating in a high intensity environment. If stealth combat drones are already in service, or soon will be, whether it is the S70 Okhotnik B Russian, Chinese Sharp Sword, or US Navy MQ-25 Stingray, until now, no one has proposed an approach to address the growing vulnerabilities of MALE drones in modern theaters of operation. Facing lack of ambition around the Euromale program, the Europeans are very likely, as for them, to have not one but two generations of delay in matters of MALE drone, too much to hope to catch up the delay which will have acquired the other world powers. By dint of evaluating industrial defense programs only by criteria of cost and potential exports, Europeans are rapidly moving away from the strategic autonomy that they publicly call for. It is necessary to keep in mind that sometimes an investment is nothing other than an investment, and that its interest is above all military and technological, and not economic. Due to its experience in deterrence, France, more than any other European, should be aware of this fact. Yet it is she who leads the rebellion against the Eurodrone ...

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