US Air Force Material Command’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) directorate is gathering industry input for a slate of “alternative and improved” options for electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors, designed for the air service’s MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial system (UAS) and other medium altitude UAS platforms.
“As a critical component of the current MQ-9 weapon system, the EO/IR sensor’s capabilities are integral to the combined ISR and Strike mission,” according to a 9 April request for information (RFI). “As such, the [US] Air Force is interested in EO/IR sensor capabilities that are currently available with minimal integration cost to the current platform, as well as researching alternative ways to support future lower-end, lower-cost ISR missions which may include initiatives to modernise, augment, [or] replace existing systems,” the RFI stated.
US Air Force officials are soliciting industry information for improved EO/IR sensor solutions for the MQ-9 Reaper. (US Department of Defense )
The command’s ISR division and its Special Operations Forces (SOF) directorate are leading the effort, with plans to reach initial operating capability (IOC) for the new tranche of EO/IR sensors for the MQ-9 by early 2022. The anticipated IOC for potential sensor solutions for medium-altitude UAS aside from the MQ-9 is planned for mid-2030, the RFI stated.
Air service leaders issued a RFI last June, calling for industry options for a new medium-altitude UAS for ISR and strike missions. In that RFI, service officials suggested potential offerors use the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg programme as a baseline for formulating their proposals. Skyborg is AI initiative focused on co-ordinating unmanned aerial systems and manned fighter jets.