The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Reaper will rule the US Air Force fleet of medium-altitude unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) through the middle of the next decade. The USAF's newly-released UAS flight flight plan shows the Reaper's capability will steadily expand with the arrival of new payloads, such as the Gorgon Stare sensor in 2010. The USAF also revealed plans to test the Reaper next year as a replacement for the US Navy EA-6B, which is retired in FY12.
The Reaper will be augmented during the next decade with the MQ-X, which is pictured in the flight plan as a stealthy, jet-powered aircraft. It retains the surveillance and close air support mission of the MQ-9, and adds an electronic warfare mission. In many ways, this recalls the objectives of the joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS), which was cancelled after 2005.
The MQ-X also opens the door to a very ambitious future. By the middle of this century, the USAF anticipates follow-on versions of this type to rule the skies. These aircraft will function as combination dogfighters, intelligence collectors, strikers and even tankers.
The USAF flight plan is available for download at this link.