- The US Marine Corps wants a massive drone that can take off vertically from ships and carry a massive amount of ordnance.
- The proposed drone would be roughly the same size as the MQ-9 Reaper and be used for numerous types of operations, including escort, early warning, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and air support.
- Multiple companies are making concepts for the drone, which the Marine Corps wants by 2034.
The Marine Corps recently released a list of desired specifications for a future drone system, known as the Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System-Expeditionary, or MUX.
The requirements, first reported by Military.com, include the ability to take off vertically from ships, carry a combined internal and external payload of 9,500 pounds, and fly at least 700 nautical miles (805 land miles) fully loaded. The Marines also want a cruising speed of 230 to 340 mph.
The intended types of missions for the aircraft include escort, early warning, communications relay, and picket line guard missions of Marine amphibious ready groups. The MUX would also be used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.
The Marines want the drone to be armed with weapons that can destroy land and air targets. Air-to-ground weapons could include the AGM-114 Hellfire, the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System laser-guided rocket, the AGM-88E Anti-radiation missile, and small-diameter bombs.
Air-to-air weapons could include the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the AIM-120 AMRAAM. The Marines also want the MUX to be able to drop a smaller, expendable drone for electronic warfare or early-warning operations.
To meet all those capabilities, the drone will have to be big – at least as big as the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper.
When asked in 2016 whether the Marines really needed such a drone, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, then the deputy commandant for aviation, responded: “Absolutely we do. And we’re going to get it.”
“If we do distributed operations, we’re going to need all the game we can bring,” he said.
Three companies have already drawn up concepts for such a drone. Bell Helicopter, the makers of the V-22 Osprey, has put forward the V-247 Vigilant, which, like the Osprey, is a tiltrotor aircraft.
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, in coordination with Piasecki Aircraft, is developing the ARES, or the Affordable Reconfigurable Embedded System. Northrop Grumman has created an interesting “tail-sitting” drone called the Tern.
The Marines are aiming for an operational land-based version of the drone by 2025, an initial sea-based version by 2028, and a fully operational drone by 2034.
Though the demands may be high, Davis told Military.com before his retirement last year that he believed it could be done, reminding critics that similar things were said of the V-22.
“V-22, impossible? Nope. F-35B, impossible? Nope. Very possible, very doable, very good,” Davis said. “Bottom line, the engineering – this is not a pie in the sky. This is very doable.”