Northrop floats MQ-Next concepts

Northrop Grumman has revealed unmanned aircraft system (UAS) concepts of long unrefuelled ranges, mission endurances greater than 24hrs, robust mission systems, a weapons capacity, open mission systems architectures and a vision vehicle image.

The concepts form part of the company’s submission in response to a request for information (RFI) by the United States Department of the Air Force (DAF). In June, DAF asked industry for future unmanned aerial systems intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike capability information. Northrop Grumman declined to detail that response but gave broad descriptions about its “air vehicle concepts”, which include mission endurances greater than 24hrs and open mission system architectures.

MQ-Next [Northrop Grumman]
Northrop Grumman concept for the MQ-Next drone, which may replace the MQ-9 Reaper and potentially other unmanned aircraft systems in the US military's inventory. Northrop Grumman

While the air force has made this request, the legislative process for defense spending in Fiscal Year 2021, which started October 1, has already had an impact. The House of Representatives’ appropriations defense subcommittee is directing the Secretary of the Air Force to submit a report about “an MQ–9 follow-on program to be designated as MQ–Next”  by the beginning of February, when forthcoming fiscal year budget requests are submitted.

The US Air Force wanted to terminate General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 production in the FY2021 defense budget, but the House subcommittee is recommending funding for 16 more MQ-9 UAS. Industry is already referring to the possible replacement as MQ-Next.

Northrop Grumman is also advocating what it calls advanced battle management command and control. This, it says, is for autonomous force-level and air vehicle-level task decision-making in “high-threat, communications-challenged operational environments”. It has also referred to digitally enabled advanced design, manufacturing and operational support capabilities aimed at shortening development timelines and reducing costs.