Over the past several years, drones have arguably become one of the most powerful weapons platforms in the world.They get smaller, they get bigger, they get better armed, and they get better surveillance equipment. They’re getting designed to land on carrier decks and to perform without any pilot control at all.
But until recently they couldn’t fly in a formation of more than six, so their capacity has been somewhat limited. That limitation appears to have changed as the Air Force announced its 29th Attack Squadron, 9th Attack
Squadron, and 6th Reconnaissance Squadron got together and laid the old record of six to waste.
On October 2, the three squadrons got together and tested a new 10 line system, a line is what’s required to operate a single drone and consists of maintenance and flight crew to keep the drone flying, a ground control station, and the aircraft.
The test went perfectly and included 10 flight crews composed of students, pilots, instructors and sensor operators all working in coordination. They were controlling six MQ-9 Reapers and four MQ-1 Predators.
There’s little reason to believe the military will stop at 10, and as it perfects the technology should begin building squadrons of drones, each carrying a massive ordnance load, to fly in formation just like a conventional bombing run.
The day of the single drone performing “surgical” strikes may not be over, but the ability to incur far greater destruction by allowing several Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to perform an overlapping mission together may be on the way.
One MQ-9 Reaper can carry the following firepower:
- Up to 1,500 lb [bombs] (680 kg) on the two inboard weapons stations
- Up to 750 lb [bombs] (340 kg) on the two middle stations
- Up to 150 lb [bombs] (68 kg) on the outboard stations
- Up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles can be carried or four Hellfire missiles and two 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. The 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can also be carried. Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile.
One MQ-1 Predator can carry:
- 2 × AGM-114 Hellfire (MQ-1B)
- 4 × AIM-92 Stinger (MQ-1B)
- 6 × Griffin air-to-surface missiles
Looking at those two lists it’s easy to imagine the Pentagon is eyeing smaller, newer unmanned bombing wings, and unmanned fighting wings.
From the Air Force:
Col. Kenneth Johnson, 49th Operations Group commander, said, “In the last year alone, the work the operations and maintenance RPA teams accomplish every day has grown by two-thirds … This is in accordance with Gen. (ret.) Norton Schwartz, former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, who said that ultimately, he believes it is conceivable that the majority of aviators in the Air Force will be flying remotely piloted aircraft.
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