XRQ-73, the massive ISR drone the US is developing for an ‘urgent operational need’

DARPAthe US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has announced its new flying wing drone XRQ-73. It’s about a UASunmanned aerial system by its acronym in English, Stealthy and large, weighing more than half a tonof which DARPA It is expected to conduct flight tests later this year. The drone is being developed for an unspecified ‘urgent operational need’ and is expected to be operational as soon as possible. The XRQ-73 is the next phase in the development of the stealthy and ultra-quiet drone XRQ-72Aalso from DARPA.

The new drone is part of the program SHEPARDan acronym for DARPA’s Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Aircraft Demonstration Series. In addition to the official press release, the agency has released a rendering of the drone’s design, which can be seen in the image at the top of this article.

The Warzone media has highlighted some features of this UAS. The first, its design of tailless flying wing. The wings appear in the same plane as the lower airfoil and taper to a clipped wingtip. Also lacks the four external nacelle engines seen in the XRQ-72A. The following is the apparent existence of a pair of air intakes on the front of the drone. These shots flank what appears to be a central fairing on the ‘nose’ of the drone. As the outlet notes, this appears to be an evolution of previous designs that showed four rather than two shots.

DARPA explains that SHEPARD is a program X-prime which uses a series of hybrid electric architectures and some component technologies from another previous project, the AFRL/IARPA Great Horned Owl, GHO. Beyond having a hybrid-electric propulsion systemdetails on the XRQ-73’s power source are limited.

Hybrid electric propulsion systems combine fuel engines and electric motorsoffering better fuel efficiency and other benefits. The addition of batteries allows for operate in a quieter electric mode.

The role that the new drone will play has not been revealed. However, the RQ designation in the name suggests that it is an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance platformISR for its acronym in English.

The predecessor of the XRQ-73, the XRQ-72A, was designed for covert surveillance in areas under enemy controlfocusing on stealth and ultra-silence. The goal was to create a drone capable of persistent, long-range operation with a reduced acoustic and infrared signature.

This was the main premise of the GHO project which sought to develop a hybrid-electric design without the limitations of a fully electric propulsion system. The XRQ-73 is likely to be of a similar natureaccording to TWZ.

‘The idea behind a DARPA X-prime program is to take emerging technologies and reduce the integration risks at the system level to rapidly mature a new long-endurance aircraft design that can be rapidly deployed‘, said Steve KomadinaSHEPARD program manager, in a statement accompanying the DARPA release. “The SHEPARD program is maturing a specific propulsion architecture and power class as an example of the potential benefits to the Department of Defense,” he added.

DARPA says the XRQ-73 aircraft will be a Group 3 unmanned aerial system, UAS, weighing approximately 567 kgIts first flight is expected by the end of 2024.