While Hughes is equipping United Kingdom MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones with the company’s HM400 software-defined modem, the U.S. Air Force said it has no plans to undertake the upgrade for the service’s MQ-9A Reapers.
General Atomics builds the MQ-9B and MQ-9A, which has been the military’s drone of choice in the last 15 years for reconnaissance and strikes in areas without significant air, jamming or hacking threats.
The Air Force plans to undertake Diminishing Manufacturing Sources’ improvements to the MQ-9A modem’s baseline configuration, the Predator Primary Datalink (PPDL) system, Air Force Materiel Command said.
However, “the Hughes HM400 is not envisioned as a replacement [for PPDL] at this time,” AFMC said.
In the future, the Air Force may want longer range, stealthy drones to counter Russia and China.
Last month, General Atomics said that it has debuted a new drone, called Mojave, that is to be capable of short take-off and landing in 400 to 600 feet and to have a carriage of up to 16 Lockheed Martin [LMT] Hellfire missiles or similar munitions.
Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, the United States has engaged in negotiations with Central Asian countries to allow the Air Force to base MQ-9s in those nations for “over-the-horizon” strikes against Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) cells in Afghanistan.
But MQ-9s have had to fly from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait for reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan–long flights that the Air Force said have limited the MQ-9s’ coverage over requested areas.
In fiscal 2022, the Air Force requested $550,000 in research and development for MQ-9 communications upgrades, including PPDL improvements–down from nearly $6.7 million funded by Congress in fiscal 2021.
Congress has yet to pass final fiscal 2022 appropriations bills, to include reflecting the increased topline figure in a defense spending bill, while approving a second continuing resolution to keep the government open through Feb. 18 (Defense Daily, Dec. 3, 2021).
Hughes has said that the HM400 provides significant transmission security for fixed and rotary wing platforms. The modem is able to operate over L-,Ku-,Ka-, Mil Ka-, and X-band frequencies and multi-orbit satellite constellations, the company has said.
Automated multi-orbit and multi-network switching may bolster U.S. and allied military communications in crises in which adversaries attempt to jam such communications and in geographical areas that encounter signal disruptions.
Allowing such communications resilience for U.S. military aircraft and drones and ground operators was the aim of a recent demonstration by Honeywell [HON], SES, and Hughes.
The companies said last month that airborne demonstrations used Honeywell’s JetWave MCX terminal with a Hughes HM-series modem, paired with SES satellites in Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) (Defense Daily, Dec. 21, 2021).