The U.S. Army’s New Drone Is a Hunter and a Killer

Improved design carries both sensors and missiles in latest test

In January, an Improved Gray Eagle drone flew for more than a day with a sensor pod on one wing and missiles on the other. General Atomics is developing the new unmanned aircraft for the U.S. Army.

The IGE is an updated version of the ground branch’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle. The new aircraft is designed to stay in the air longer with the help of a larger fuel tank.

Last October, an IGE prototype remained aloft for 45 hours straight in a so-called Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition configuration. This means the aircraft was not carrying any additional equipment or weapons.

Existing Gray Eagles with a similar systems can only fly for around 25 hours at an altitude of up to 25,000 feet. This latest test proved that the new aircraft can still operate for longer periods even with added weight.

The IGE took off General Atomics’s El Mirage Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, California on Jan. 17 and returned there on Jan. 19. The drone was in the air for 36.7 hours in total.

The unmanned plane also carried extra gear to listen in on enemy radio chatter and two Hellfire missiles. The Army’s basic Gray Eagles—one of which is seen in the picture below—can’t effectively carry extra spy gear and weapons at the same time.

General Atomics also says it is updating the prototype’s computer software. With this new code, Army personnel could fly the drone with the ground control systems they have now. There are also plans to start testing a new pilot station this summer.

The ground branch currently operates about 75 MQ-1Cs and expects to get 34 more by 2015. Work on the drone—a derivative of the famous Predator—started in 2005 and some of the first operational aircraft arrived in Iraq in 2009.

Last November, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment received 12 Gray Eagles. The Army has also been adding these remotely piloted aircraft to all of its Combat Aviation Brigades.

The ground branch currently uses the drones to search for enemies, spot ambushes, look for improvised explosive devices and other intelligence missions. The remotely piloted planes can also carry up to 1,000 pounds of bombs or missiles.

The MQ-1C and IGE are important parts of the Army’s drone plans. The ground branch wants to keep these unmanned aircraft in service at least through Fiscal Year 2028.

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