MQ-9 Reaper’s new electronic warfare capabilities turn the drone into a ‘black hole’

He United States Marine Corps has announced that it is working to make its drones MQ-9 Reaper become more difficult to detect by incorporating a new high-tech module or capsule designed to improve its protection against enemy sensors. The general Eric M. Smithcommandant of the Marine Corps, said Tuesday at a forum at the Brookings Institution that this new electronic warfare module ‘brings with it a detection and analysis capability. Some of the capsules that are placed on our MQ-9 are classified… (so) I’ll be careful here. There is a type of capsule that can mimic the signals it detects, turn them around and send them back. So, becomes a hole, becomes a black hole, becomes largely undetectable‘, according to the military media Army Recognition.

The MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by General Atomicsis an unmanned aerial system used to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilitiesISR for its acronym in English, and precision attacksThey also serve as a secure communications link and network bridge. These drones will exchange data with a variety of systems, including satellites, other drones, aircraft, ships, expeditionary forward bases, and ground sensors. This approach aligns with the Combined Joint Command and Control Across All Domains initiative, CJADC2 The Pentagon’s acronym seeks to better connect the sensors, platforms and data streams of the U.S. military and its key allies under a more unified network.

The MQ-9 is 10.9 meters long and has a wingspan of 20.1 meters, can fly up to 27 hours at an altitude of 15,000 meters, has an external load capacity of 1,360 kg and an internal load capacity of 385 kg that allows them to transport Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs and reach a speed of 444 km/h.

The new Reaper Defense Electronic Support System / Scalable Open Architecture Reconnaissance module, RDESS/SOAR The device, which is classified as a “classified” device, gives MQ-9s “the ability to disappear to a certain extent from enemy radar,” Smith added, declining to give further details for security reasons.

The RDESS/SOAR was initially tested by the Air Force in 2021 and it is unclear when the Marines first fielded it. According to General Atomics’ it is a passive, wide-spectrum Electronic Support Measure (ESM) payload. Designed to collect and geolocate signals of interest from safe distances‘. This gives you the ability to gather enough data about the battlefield to make better decisions while stays far enough away from some types of enemy defenses to be able to survive.

It is a variant of the Scalable Open Architecture Reconnaissance base module, SOARwhich allows the drone to detect enemy radar transmitters and communications at safe distances. Provides real-time target information that can be instantly transmitted for use or stored for later analysis.

The 287-kilogram SOAR module that the Reaper can carry under its wing was developed jointly by General Atomics and L3Harris. The Marine Corps was a relative latecomer to the use of the Reaper, which They have been used for almost two decades by the US Air Force and the CIA.. It began operating two leased MQ-9s from General Atomics in 2018. In late 2020, it was granted authorization to purchase the first two extended-range MQ-9A Block 5s. These offer a major increase in capability compared to the much smaller RQ-7 Shadow and RQ-21 Blackjack drones. By 2025, the Marines plan to field 18 Reapers.

Adding the RDESS/SOAR module takes advantage of the adaptability of Reapers, reconfiguring them from hunter-killer drones to detection platforms. “If you have to be outmatched by the adversary in terms of detection and attack, then you have no value. You must being able to sense remotely, understand what’s happening, and share that data ubiquitously across the battlefield with the joint force,” Smith emphasized.