The U.S. Air Force has released its latest request for information as it sets out more requirements for the replacement for its MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, a program now dubbed MQ-Next. The new document indicates that the service is looking at a future drone that will feature defensive counter-air capabilities to protect high-value manned aircraft, such as tankers, as well as potentially fly red air aggressor missions.
The request for information (RFI) from the Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) was recently published on the U.S. government’s contracting website beta.SAM.gov. A previous RFI, released last June, focused on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capabilities for the MQ-9 replacement, which the Air Force hopes will offer reduced operating costs and greater persistence, survivability, and range. While the latest RFI doesn’t mention MQ-Next by name, it does explicitly state that the information sought is related to the replacement of the MQ-9.
Now, with the Air Force having gathered the information it needs on the aforementioned Next-Gen ISR/strike capabilities, the scope of the RFI has been expanded to what is being termed Next-Generation Multi-Role Unmanned Aerial System Family of Systems (Next-Gen Multi-Role UAS FoS).
The RFI acknowledges that the Next-Gen Multi-Role UAS FoS may be attritable or expendable, unlike the Reaper, as well as, or as an alternative to being survivable and reusable. The document also confirms that the Reaper’s replacement will be tailored for Great Power Competition — suggesting it will be expected to go to war in the kinds of highly contested environments encountered during a conflict with a peer rival such as China or Russia, in line with the demands of the 2018 National Defense Strategy. At the same time, the UAV is also intended to fly missions in permissive environments, too.
Read more: The Drive