General Atomics at work on MQ-9 upgrade with expanded capabilities

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is testing a new version of the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle that would offer the U.S. military a number of improvements over the Block 1 version in production for nearly a decade.

The company successful flew for the first time the MQ-9 Block 1-plus on May 24 at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., company officials said Sept. 5.

The MQ-9 Block 1-plus contains system enhancements over the Block 1 configuration, including increased electrical power, more secure communications and an auto landing feature, the company said. The new model also has expanded weapons capability and streamlined payload integration.

Following current development and testing, and an expected Milestone C decision this fall, follow-on aircraft to the MQ-9 Block 1-plus configuration will be designated as MQ-9 Block 5, the company said.

The MQ-9 Block 5 will feature greater electrical power capacity than the Block 1 design. In addition, the upgraded electrical system includes a backup generator, which can support all critical flight functions.

Numerous new communications capabilities also will be available in the Block 5, including dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas, secure data links and an increased data transmission capacity, officials said. In addition, the new trailing arm main landing gear will be included in Block 5, enabling the aircraft to carry heavier payloads or additional fuel.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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