Home » Wars » Afghan Update » USAF Sending New Drone To Afghanistan

USAF Sending New Drone To Afghanistan

by John Reed on December 14, 2011

This is very interesting, just after losing an RQ-170 Sentinel drone to Iran the AIr Force is sending a single, stealthy-ish Predator-C Avenger drone to Afghansistan.

The Predator C is made by General Atomics and appeared to be in the running for the Air Force’s MQ-X next-generation combat drone project. That effort was put on old when the service said that it wanted to revise the requirements to make the drone more survivable.

Now, the Air Force apparently requested that the drone be sent to Afghanistan before the RQ-170 crashed. Furthermore, an Air Force announcement makes it sound as if the Predator C’s wing hardpoints will be used to carry weapons, something that will eliminate any stealthiness. This makes it unlikely that the drone will be used as a replacement for the Sentinel.

Here’s the Force Announcement:

“This aircraft will be used as a test asset and will provide a significantly increased weapons and sensors payload capacity on an aircraft that will be able to fly to targets much more rapidly than the MQ-9 [Reaper] UAS. Since it has an internal weapons bay and four hardpoints on each wing it will also allow greater flexibility and will accommodate a large selection of next generation sensor and weapons payloads.”

Via Flight.

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike November 29, 1999 at 7:00 pm

This is so cool go Air Force.


Myself November 29, 1999 at 7:00 pm

How about making a drone with out an outside source controlling it. Have the coordinates already imputed and which weapon system that needs to be used. Then wrap the system in a proverbial Faraday cage.


blight December 17, 2011 at 2:02 pm

"making a drone with out an outside source controlling it" … DONE

"Have the coordinates already imputed" … DONE

"Then wrap the system in a proverbial Faraday cage."

What makes you think it was an EMP that brought down the drone? Faraday cage won't work on much else?

Also, pre-programmed weapon systems won't catch a jammer in a truck or a target on the move. Hooray, another warehouse destroyed. Anything static will probably (or should be) reasonably well defended from air attack.


Musson1 December 14, 2011 at 11:30 am

What is the drone's range? Can it hit targets in Iran?


brian November 29, 1999 at 7:00 pm

The AF has bases all over the world… practically any aircraft in its arsenal can outside of a fighter can get within striking distance without even needing to be refueled… add the inflight refuel capability and the short answer to your question is yes.


Guest December 14, 2011 at 11:41 am

So, will this one have a self-destruct mechanism?


TLAM Strike December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

@the editors: FWI you misspelled 'hold'.


jumper December 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm

It's ok, they also omitted half the puncuation it should have had as well.


Morty December 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Its good we finally have stuff in Afgan ready to hit Iran. Better to be ready then not


jamesb December 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Sounds like a system looking for a mission…..


Brian Black December 15, 2011 at 6:38 am

Not really. The Predator and Reaper missions are already clearly identified – the Avenger will fit in smoothly with those.


Fat Man December 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I'd love to see drones carrying tac-nukes/MOABs


Cloggman December 15, 2011 at 7:56 am

do you knwo how much a MOAB weights? they are transported by C130's


blight December 15, 2011 at 9:21 am

And MOP is carried in specially modified B-2's.

These would certainly be very large drones required.


Lance December 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm

basically a jet attack drone in the war. No BIG news there.


Black Owl December 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Let's hope the Iranians don't hack that one too.


zardinuk December 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

They were planning on sending this drone since July or something, not a direct result of the stealth drone going down over Iran, shoot that conspiracy theory down. It is nice timing though isn't it.


Dfens December 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Oh no, it has stealth shaping. It must, therefore, cost billions upon billions of dollars, have less that 65% mission availability, and be made completely of carbon fiber composite. What, it doesn't, it isn't, it won't. Don't let the taxpayers know… These UAV bastards are going to ruin it for all of us.

By the way, where did you learn that hanging things off the wing has to destroy the stealth? Did a defense contractor tell you that? Obviously they would never lie.


Nate T. December 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

As far as weapons being hung off the wings – my understanding of the Super Hornet was that it was designed precisely to be as stealthy as practical while still carrying external ordnance, while being cheaper to buy and maintain than something like the F-22 or F-35. Result: relatively inexpensive aircraft, external stores, and a useful degree of stealth. I don't know how you feel about the Super Hornet, but I figured you might appreciate that philosophy.


Dfens December 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Not a big fan of the Sucker Hornet, but certainly there is no law, natural or otherwise that says anything hung on the wing compromises stealth. It is funny how stuff like that gets repeated to the point of being liturgical orthodoxy. There was a time when designing weapons was more science than faith. Of course, if Kelly Johnson had needed the approval of the USAF's procurement bureacracy with all of their meaningless acronyms, buzz words, and cliches it would have never happened. Hell, if you proposed to build one now they'd tell you it was impossible, like the original had never existed.


Cthel December 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Well, if what you hang off the wing has a large radar cross section, then the laws of physics say it will show up like the proverbial barn. It doesn't necessarily do anything to the RCS of the plane carrying it, mind you, but it does rather attract attention of any moderately competent air-defense network.


blight December 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Correct. The issue is that bombs, missiles and mounting hardware isn't designed for low RCS, and it makes you wonder why they don't do it, especially as we are pushing the stealth angle as hard as we can.

Nate T. December 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I’m not crazy about the Stupor Hornet either. Still, like I said, it’s an interesting approach.
I’m intrigued by your comment that no natural laws state that non-stealthy external stores will compromise the signature of stealthy aircraft.

Every single source I have seen or read says essentially the same thing on radar stealth:
Radar stealth consists (roughly) of designing the airframe to reflect radar energy away from the locations of likely radar emitters, and applying radar absorbing material to soak up incident radar energy. (There are other problems, like Rayleigh scattering, but those typically come into play only for really long wavelengths.)
If the pods hung under an aircraft’s wings don’t have stealth geometry or radar absorbing material, they will show up on radar, and, hence, the aircraft will effectively show up on radar. Pods under a plane’s wings are not the kiss of death, but they limit its stealth performance.

You seem to be hinting that your understanding of radar stealth is different than this, such that the radar signatures of weapons in no way impact the radar signature of the aircraft. I’d be interested in hearing you elaborate on it and point out why conventional interpretations are mistaken or insufficient, if you’re interested.


Dfens December 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Maybe you should read what I actually said.

jumper December 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

Take your foil hat off and come out of your Mom's basement for air… External pylons compromise stealth. It's a fact. It's been demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it's not even a difficult concept to wrap your head around if you have even a vague idea of how radar works.


Reagan December 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

It lessens the stealth. You could have the stealthiest plane on earth, but when you have exterior weapons, it'll still be a stealthy plane, but not the best.


blight December 27, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Assuming standard mounting hardware and conventional weapons, of course.

If we'd bothered to try and push the state of the art when it comes to low RCS mounting hardware and externally mounted weapons, we might have a little progress. And while not as stealthy as internal carry, you can carry more hardware, the hardware is future-proofed against size creep and you carry more stuff per sortie.

We're still very much in the business of maximizing stealth, possibly to the detriment of everything else.


H.Kent NDIA/NSATC March 31, 2012 at 12:02 am

Pay attention to an Old Crow…metal bomb or missile cruciform wings and tail sections are perfect radar reflectors. We have internal weapons bays to conceal these features. First educate yourself, then form opinions or you will appear ignorant which seems not to be your goal. For the earlier writer who mentioned Faraday cages…all current US military systems are shielded, their electrical circuits isolated from each other and filtered, with EMP surge arresting. We did this because we were planning to use nuclear weapons during the Cold War, now it continues due to conventional EMP weapons and directed energy from AESA radars. You don't deploy things you have no countermeasure for…just things THEY have no countermeasures for.


Sanem December 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

indeed. had a manned aircraft gone down, they would have stopped all operations and you'd have the pilot being tortured on tv

now they just send more :D

one down (probably because of a fluke engine failure), hundreds to go, keep up the good work Iran ;)


Ed! December 15, 2011 at 9:09 am

Last one was unarmed…this one won't be unarmed…goodbye Electronic warfare unit, if they try this stunt again.


blight December 15, 2011 at 9:20 am

Not if they shut down the drone beforehand. And unless the drones are carrying HARMs…


crackedlenses December 27, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I want to see the Iranians try to land a fully loaded and armed drone; one wrong move on the airstrip and its boom….


blight December 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm

It would be hilarious if the aircraft was programmed to discharge its weapon systems upon capture. Way to shut down an airbase, for instance. Or to drop caltrops on the runway and shut operations down to prevent FOD.

Funny how the RQ-170 has already fallen off the airwaves…

Guest December 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Best keep it away from the border this time.


Charles January 16, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Iran's electronic warfare capabilities likely extend well beyond their borders. According to a Yahoo! News article posted around the time the Iranians hijacked the RQ-170 an anonymous Iranian (for his own safety) claimed they jammed the control signal, took control, and confused the GPS to cause it to land on their territory. It would make sense to equip future drones with improved communications to prevent that from happening again.


txkboy December 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Now wouldn’t that suck if next week’s news read “Iranians fly-off another advanced drone”.


Steve December 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

We don't need no stinking drones we Nukes in IRAN.All the terroist are being supplied by Iran sick Isrel on them With nato's help Iran will be a desolate spot on the earth.


icedrake December 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Up next: Basic spelling and comprehensibility skills come to DT!


Joe December 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm

As someone who works for this company and directly involved in the loading of this plane this news is news to me i.e. it's a fabrication to get someones attention.


Dark Angel December 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Why send a drone, & why limit oneself to simply erasing Iran frmo the plant, why not take Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran out all at the same time & reduce the ampount of technology and time we're wasting with the sand sprinting camel jockeys?


Dark Angel December 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Yeah, I realize I mispelled from… and amount incorrectly but I think you all get my point. Too much time, energy and $$ being wasted in barren wastelands on "H" bomb could accomplish at a reduced cost to the United States taxpayers…. but then again, that would be all to difficult of a decision to make… hmmm…. Peace or terrorists armed with Nukes, which would I choose?


Adhocracy December 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Unfortunately, if we nuked Iran the only thing that would survive is the loony ideology & the nuclear programme, which is safe underground. Plus they all think they’re going to heaven so they
don’t care about their people dying. We
don’t have that comforting delusion. Should’ve hit them before they got so far down the road.


tiger December 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Angel, We are not ready for Wing Attack Plan "R" just yet. We do like to talk out problems before going "Final Solution" on millions.


Will December 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm

The Avenger can operate in a relatively stealthy mode by using only the internal weapons bay for ordance. And it's obvious from the photo that radar was not the 1st consideration for the design like it was for the RQ-170.


BigRick December 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I hope the airforce doesn't "land" this drone in Iran too.


oldeng December 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Just curious why the designer of these planes keep designing them as if there is a man in it. (i.e. thinking in two dimensions as oppose to three dimensions aka star trek, RoC.) They have a mental block of "the top is the top and the bottom is the bottom." The computers flying them could care less which way it is flying, right side up or upside down.
Why not…
While on the ground and during take-off and landing it would be upside down with all the access panels, landing gear, engines on the bottom and nasty radar sig things. Once in the air it could flip upside down and fly it's mission that way.

The planes could have a continuous seamless top surface, (no doors/access panels as oriented on the ground) that would become the bottom surface during a mission. If it needed to launch something, a quick barral roll, dropping the weapon and then return to normal flight configuration flying.


Cthel December 15, 2011 at 3:48 am

Not a bad idea, but it has been proposed before. It's unclear why it hasn't been adopted (at least not officially) but it might have something to do with losing sensor lock when performing the barrel roll for weapons release.


SXO December 16, 2011 at 11:33 am

An innovative idea with one critical flaw. Last time I checked the physics of flight still apply, so how do you design an aircraft that can fly upside down? Does the wing's shape change to allow for lift despite its orientation?


Cthel December 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Well, movable leading and trailing edges would probably enable you to create a wing which can change its vertical orientation (which way is up).

Of course, all those airshow videos of aerobatic displays featuring planes flying upside down would tend to suggest that this might be less of a problem than you seem to imply…


tiger December 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Will Drones count toward a ACE score?? In WW 1, did they had a separate count for balloons vs. planes???


dddd December 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Interesting question. I have never thought about that before. I do know a few British pilots took down V1s during the Blitz. Maybe that could produce some leads.


Rob December 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

That's the spirit. (Love my A.F.)


Don December 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

Can it find the one we just lost and Obama beg them to give back with a have smile on his face.

I say we find it and destroy it no matter where it is. China will have it soon, and then Russia, and maybe North Korea. I can't believe we let this happen, and did nothing about it. China must of given Iran some new tech stuff that we don't know about, or the drone wasn't ready to be flown in this area yet, without proper testing, and electric jamming, as a well as a fail safe self destruct. Boy, I would love to see that thing blow up in their faces. Since we have a weak president, China and Iran got a free weapon from us. Maybe this will teach us a lesson, but I doubt it.


HEY December 15, 2011 at 11:44 am

"Since we have a weak president, China and Iran got a free weapon from us."

Boy, you really are stupid eh? Why blame Obama for this UAV crash in Iran? It's not like he personally piloted the damned plane to Iran.


Charles W. December 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm

the internal bay will probably be solely utilized on missions into Pakistan or Iran. they will likely use the hard points on the wings for missions in Afghanistan.


Byron Skinner December 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Good Morning Folks,

The Avenger is not a replacement for the Sentinel but a new class of UAV that is designed for the intelligence as well as the attack mission. I'm not sure what the current variant the USAForce is sending into Afghanistan but another things built into the Avenger is air to air refueling capacity, it could also serve as a tanker and refuel other UAV.s, it has a significantly larger weapons load (8,000-10,000 lbs?) with both hard points on the wings as mentioned and internal bays.

The variant for the USNavy will be have carrier landing and take off and landing ability and be multi-mission, Sea Control, ASW, Ground support (yes there have been experiments with a cannon) , C4IRS (the internal bomb bay could house more fuel and equipment), Electronic Warfare etc. The air frame has an estimated cost of about $30 million which currently seems like a good deal.

The Avenger is not a replacement for the F-35 or any other aircraft but is a who new class of aircraft. The avenger will have to wait for the USS Ford to be launched and operational before we can start to see what all it can do. But it not to far of a stretch of thinking to see carrier air groups made up of the F/A47's and the Avenger's.

Byron Skinner


jamFRIDGE December 23, 2011 at 9:20 am

I was just wondering if this could be used for CAS. Bigger payload means more weapons, or a heavier one.


blight December 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

CAS debate incoming.


Von Anton December 27, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Like we were allready told pilots fly their "drones,UBA,planes "from container or garage any were,could be youre neighbor in Chey,Ca.or nevada,with mate to retire after 8 hours to drive to get a beer?Its been done now and years ago I hope we dont run out of pilots planes or money??


zardinuk December 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

General Atomics is at the top of their game, they're owned and operated by brothers who seem to be very talented guys. They ought to try their hand at a manned fighter.


IKnowMoreThanU December 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Less systems, less requirements, less abilities = cheaper system. They tend to crash…a lot….but with no pilot they do not draw the attention of the media/high government officials.


TC1 December 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Predator C is the correct designation for the Avenger. The MQ-1C is a variant of the Predator A (and the Reaper is the Predator B). Nice and confusing, right?


dddd December 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I see your point. But maybe they should just keep dominating the UAV market?


Nate T. December 14, 2011 at 8:03 pm

I did. If I'm missing your point, can you restate or elaborate so I can grasp what I'm apparently missing?


Nate T. December 14, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I understand your statement that corporations aren't necessarily honest, and I don't necessarily disagree with it, but I'm interested in:

1) Your explanation of why the existing model of radar stealth, and its problem with pylon-mounted weapons, doesn't explain how stealth works in the real world.
2) Your alternative model for radar stealth that explains what we do know about it, while showing that pylon-mounted weapons won't make an aircraft more detectable.

I'm definitely interested in what you're saying, and I'd like to understand it, but what you've said so far hasn't explained your view enough for me to understand it.


Ed! December 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

Yep, clear as mud. Although it is an armed UAV, so it would have an MQ designation if they use the current designations.


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