USAF says adios to MQ-X

Just weeks after the Air Force canceled the Block 30 Global Hawk drone, the Air Force's top intel officer revealed that the service won't to develop the MQ-X next-gen UAV.

The Air Force’s effort to field a brand new tactical drone, known as MQ-X has effectively been cancelled the service’s top intelligence officer said today.

“At this point we do not see a need, or we don’t plane, in the near term, to invest in any sort of MQ-X like program,” said Lt. Gen Larry James today during an Aviation Week-sponsored conference in Arlington,Va. “Given the requirement set, given what’s going on [in the world] out there with the Reaper fleet, that we can upgrade those as we need to, to meet the demand signals, to meet the requirements that are going to be out there in the future.”

Rather than develop a brand new set of tactical drones, the service will upgrade its fleet of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and will closely watch the Navy’s effort to field a steathly, jet-powered combat drone later this decade under the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program with an eye toward adopting that type of technology if the Air Force likes what it sees.

“The Navy is developing some capability in the [UAV] domain, we want to see how that play out before we make any decisions on any next-generation platform capability,” said James during an Aviation Week-sponsored conference in Arlington,Va. “So as I said, in the near term, right now, there is no intent to pursue that MQ-X program.”

The jet-powered Predator C, also known as the Avenger, shown above was long considered to be a contender to enter service as MQ-X. While the service has canned MQ-X, it is buying a couple of Predator C drones for research purposes.

This comes as the air service reduces its Reaper buys to 28 aircraft per year from a high of 48 per year, this will allow the Air Force to reach its goal of having 65 Reaper-style UAV combat air patrols by May 2014, with the ability to surge higher than 6 if needed, according to James.

“We couldn’t create the manpower fast enough to operate” 48 new Reapers each year, added James.