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Top US Air Force officer sees MQ-9 Reaper UAV as prime candidate for armed overwatch

14 February 2020
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A top US Air Force officer believes the MQ-9's clean endurance of 32 hours makes it a good candidate for USSOCOM's armed overwatch procurement. Source: US Air Force

Key Points

  • The MQ-9 could provide US Special Operations Command with a quality armed overwatch capability, according to a top US Air Force officer
  • USSOCOM is looking to procure about 75 aircraft

A top US Air Force (USAF) officer believes the endurance of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) could make it a top candidate for US Special Operations Command's (USSOCOM's) armed overwatch procurement.

"There are very few platforms on the planet that are better than a MQ-9 in terms of duration," Lieutenant General Mark Kelly, USAF deputy chief of staff for operations, said on 12 February.

Lt Gen Kelly said that the MQ-9's advantages over piloted aircraft included not having to send a rescue crew if one goes down and that they can fly without a pilot having to use a restroom or go into a base. He framed his remarks in the context of Africa being a huge continent. Africa is also host to many USSOCOM forces.

The Predator B, which is known as the MQ-9 in USAF service, has a 32 hour 'clean' endurance, according to Jane's Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Targets .

Armed overwatch will provide special operators deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems fulfilling close air support (CAS); precision strike; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in austere and permissive environments. It will also fulfil armed reconnaissance, strike co-ordination and reconnaissance, and airborne forward air control.

USSOCOM declined to comment, and a request for comment to GA-ASI was not returned prior to publication.

Special operations expects to procure an estimated 75 aircraft with associated support as part of indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract with a base five-year ordering period and a two-year option.

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