General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has unveiled a new armed drone concept, called Defender, that is capable of protecting High-Value Airborne Assets (HVAAs) such as aerial refueling tankers and reconnaissance aircraft.
A rendering of the Defender concept released by General Atomics shows a drone, similar to the company’s Avenger (formerly Predator C) unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), firing an air-to-air missile (AAM) while escorting an aerial refueling tanker. The rendering also shows another Defender UCAV receiving fuel from the tanker aircraft.
“Capable of protecting the U.S. Air Force (USAF)’s high value airborne assets (HVAA) in a contested environment makes the Defender a critical piece of the Future Force”, said the company in a Twitter post.
— GA-ASI (@GenAtomics_ASI) February 27, 2020
According to GA-ASI, the Defender UAV is equipped with air refueling capabilities and “is able to remain on station and defend the outside force for days and weeks at a time”.
General Atomics Defender Concept
The design of the General Atomics’ Defender UCAV concept is similar to the Avenger UCAV and also the company’s proposal for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker program, which was later won by Boeing.
The Avenger (Predator C) is powered by a turbofan engine as opposed to the piston and turboshaft engines powering the previous MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) drones respectively. Avenger’s design includes stealth features such as internal weapons storage, and an S-shaped exhaust for reduced infrared and radar signatures.
The U.S. Air Force operates one Avenger test aircraft and an unidentified U.S. government customer has up to seven aircraft.
High-Value Airborne Asset (HVAA) protection is a defensive counterair mission using fighter escorts (current) that defend airborne national assets which are so important that the loss of even one could seriously impact the country’s warfighting capabilities or provide the enemy with significant propaganda value.
The HVAAs include all major airborne platforms for command and control (C2), intelligence collection, targeting, aerial refueling (AR), and electronic warfare (EW). Depending on the defensive situation, other special
mission aircraft may also be considered as HVAAs.
Most of the HVAAs are large, slow-moving aircraft that have little or no offensive capability. Some of the U.S. Armed Force’s High-Value Airborne Assets are E-3 Sentry AWACS, E-8 Joint STARS (C2, AGS, BMS), RC-135V/W Rivet Joint (SIGINT), EC-130H Compass Call (EW), RC-135S Cobra Ball, U-2 “Dragon Lady” (Recon), E-2 Hawkeye (AEW) and EP-3E Aries II (Multi-INT).
Active protection for an HVAA is normally performed by fighter escorts, a fighter Combat Air Patrol (CAP) between the HVAA and all potential air-to-air threats, or surface-based Air Defense systems between the HVAA and the enemy.
General Atomics Ghost Reaper
General Atomics has also revealed the Ghost Reaper concept on Twitter.
“Derived from U.S. Air Force’s most successful MQ-9 Block 5, Ghost Reaper fully integrates with Advanced Battlefield Management Systems [ABMS] to serve as a force multiplier”, said the company in a Twitter post.
Derived from @USAF’s most successful ✈️ MQ-9 Block 5, Ghost Reaper fully integrates with Advanced Battlefield Management Systems to serve as a force multiplier.#futureforce #USAF #AWS20 pic.twitter.com/BYZ5gAnl77
— GA-ASI (@GenAtomics_ASI) February 28, 2020