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On 1 August 2023 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) completed multiple successful take-offs and landings with its Mojave unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) on a dirt strip near El Mirage, California, the company announced on 3 August.

The ability to take off and land on unimproved surfaces demonstrates the Mojave’s departure from the dependence of traditional fixed-wing aircraft on prepared runways, providing greater versatility and allowing the aircraft to fly out of areas previously deemed unsuitable for UAV operations.

The flight tests were the first-ever short take-off and landing (STOL) operations on a dirt surface for the Mojave, which is a technical demonstrator derived from the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Take-offs were achieved in as little as 586 ft (178.6 m), while short landings were completed in as little as 335 ft (102.1 m). However, the tests were primarily focused on gathering terrain feedback using the Mojave, rather than achieving the shortest distances possible, GA-ASI noted.

The ruggedised STOL performance of GA-ASI’s Mojave promises to bring a versatile expeditionary UAV capability to any forces that employ it. (Photo: GA-ASI)

The Mojave’s enlarged wings with high-lift devices, combat-proven 450 HP turbine engine and ruggedised landing gear make it ideal for operating from semi-improved surfaces with a small ground support footprint. It thus provides options for forward-basing operations without the need for typical airport runways or infrastructure, so it can be rapidly deployed from and recovered to non-traditional discrete locations.

The Mojave can also be broken down to fit inside a C-130 transport aircraft and rapidly reassembled at forward location, extending its operational reach in performing reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA), attack, and contested logistics support missions.

Designed to be rapidly deployable and expeditionary, the Mojave features a ruggedised airframe that enables operations in austere conditions and weatherisation that facilitates missions in wider environmental windows. Robust wing storage means it can carry up to 16 Hellfire or equivalent missiles, assorted munitions, launched effects (LEs), or logistical resupply pods.

The Mojave “can provide greater operational flexibility while still being equipped with a multi-sensor suite that includes electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR), synthetic aperture radar/ground moving-target indicator (SAR/GMTI), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and signals intelligence (SIGINT) systems to support land or maritime missions throughout the spectrum of joint all-domain operations (JADO)”, GA-ASI stated.

Peter Felstead