The U.S. Air Force announced improvements on Wednesday to the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle to extend its service life. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force
April 21 (UPI) -- Upgrades to the fleet of MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft will increase its effectiveness, the U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday.
Some existing versions of the drone aircraft will receive retrofit enhancements already installed on versions currently in production by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
Called the M2DO configuration, the improvements include additional anti-jamming properties, a boost in available electrical power and an open architecture design of the platform to encourage integration of new capabilities.
The aircraft will also receive improvements to electro-optical and infrared sensors, as well as an expansion of the weapons it can carry.
"The user has directed us to add technology into the platform which signals that the MQ-9 can offer more capability than just Counter-Violent Extremist Organizations operations over the next 10 to 15 years," Lt. Col. Nick Jordan, MQ-9 said in a press release on Wednesday.
"It can remain relevant with these added and upgraded technologies," said Jordan, MQ-9 production and retrofit materiel leader.
The MQ-9 first flew in 2001, and was introduced into service in 2007.
A 2006 U.S. Air Force statement called it the "first hunter-killer UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle], designed "to go aftertime-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets with 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles."
The drone is currently in use by the air forces of the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, and France, as well as the Indian navy and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
The U.S. Air Force projects the improvements, with additional enhancements to come, will extend the projected service life of the MQ-9 to 2035.
In March, it was announced that the U.S. Marine Corps will have 18 MQ-9A vehicles in the Indo-Pacific region, with six located in Hawaii, to counter threats from China.
"The developing abilities of near-peer competitors drive the need for increased naval capability distributed over a wider area," a 40-page "Unmanned Campaign Framework," by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, said at the time.
The report outlined a need to "innovate and accelerate delivery of credible and reliable unmanned systems" to work alongside the fleet's manned platforms.