Thursday, February 9, 2012

MQ-X candidate Avenger C - first flight

The U.S. Air Force’s plan to acquire a next-generation, stealthy, precision-attack MQ-X unmanned aerial system has a candidate with the first flight of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ extended second variant of its jet-powered Predator C Avenger.

The closely held flight took place Jan. 12 at the company’s Palmdale, Calif., facility. USAF, in its 2025 road map, has stated a preference for a stealth signature (but not very low observability) and long endurance (the latest Avenger can fly for 16 hr.). Predator C offers a serpentine inlet for its Pratt & Whitney engine and a ducted exhaust to shield the aircraft’s heat signature.

General Atomics is building four Avenger Cs. Starting with the second aircraft, the fuselage was extended 4 ft. for additional fuel capacity. A third aircraft is expected to fly this summer followed by the fourth by early next year.

“The Air force wants the MQ-X to operate and survive in a contested or degraded operational environment,” says Chris Pehrson, the company’s director of strategic development.

That means that competitors might substitute electronic attack and electronic warfare for some of the stealth capability. Any design would combine reduced signature, jamming self-protection and long-range surveillance.

“The kind of sensors you put on a platform can allow a greater standoff distance by looking deeper into enemy territory,” the official says. “Avenger is a jet-powered UAV, so it can fly faster and respond more quickly to time-sensitive targets and threats.”

General Atomics is pushing the flight envelope of Avenger beyond 400 kt., to almost twice the speed of the turboprop-powered, workhorse MQ-9 Reaper. It will not be highly maneuverable because it’s not a fighter, nor will it have the speed to keep up with a package of strike aircraft.

“But the speed does allow it to transit to a target area or react to pop-up threats faster,” Pehrson says. “You are looking at a trade space of endurance, altitude, speed and agility. The Avenger has wings like a powered glider so it can operate at about 50,000-55,000 feet. That’s not as high as a U-2, but it will be above most of the traffic.”

Sensors of interest for the Avenger include the Raytheon surveillance ball that is on the Reaper now and multi-spectral sensors like those on the U-2 that can broaden the amount of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be monitored for targeting and reconnaissance.

Various Air Force and Navy officials have indicated that Raytheon’s jamming variant of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD-J) is being considered as a standoff electronic attack capability for the Avenger and other aircraft involved in suppressing air defenses.


Senior al-Qaeda leader killed in drone strike

One of the most senior al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Badar Mansoor, has been killed in a US drone strike, local officials say.

The attack took place in Miranshah in North Waziristan tribal area, close to the border with Afghanistan.

Badar Mansoor is suspected of killing dozens of people in attacks in Pakistan and further afield.

If confirmed, his death would be seen by the US as a vindication of its drone programme, correspondents say.

Al-Qaeda has so far not publicly commented on the claim, but AFP news agency has quoted one Mansoor loyalist confirming the death.

Pakistani officials say he was among at least four militants killed in the pre-dawn strike.

Badar Mansoor had moved between the militant groups of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Pakistani Taleban and al-Qaeda where he became a key figure, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says.

He is thought to have trained new fighters and planned numerous suicide attacks, including one against Pakistan's Ahmadi Muslim minority in Lahore in which about 90 people died, our correspondent adds.

The drone attack was the second in North Waziristan in as many days. On Wednesday, 10 suspected militants were killed, Pakistani security officials said.

Drone attacks cause huge anger in Pakistan, which has previously complained that they violate its sovereignty. However, correspondents say the authorities are believed privately to give their support to the US for the attacks.

Last month, US President Barack Obama defended the use of drones to target militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The US does not normally comment on drone operations, which have killed hundreds of people in recent years. The dead include senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, as well as an unknown number of other militants and civilians.


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