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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) announced on 9 May 2024 that it is working with the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to develop a new pod-based Airborne Battlespace Awareness and Defense (ABAD) capability.

The new ABAD pod is being developed for the GA-ASI-supplied MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 medium-altitude, long-endurance tactical (MALET) extended-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being operated by the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The ABAD capability will provide detection and protection both against radio frequency (RF) and infra-red (IR) threats.

“Threat awareness and survivability are critical for MQ-9A to operate in contested environments,” GA-ASI President David R Alexander was quoted as saying in a company press release. “ABAD will enable the tracking of RF and IR missile threats, enable defensive measures and [deliver] real-time threat awareness for MQ-9A.”

The first phase of contract work evaluated suitable RF electronic warfare (EW) and IR countermeasures systems. This led to the downselection of a next-generation software-defined radio-based EW system from BAE Systems and the AN/AAQ-45 Distributed Aperture Infrared Countermeasure System (DAIRCM) from Leonardo DRS.

“BAE Systems’ advancements in small-form-factor EW technologies will provide affordable multi-function capabilities for the MQ-9A, enabling it to operate in previously inaccessible airspace,” said Joshua Niedzwiecki, vice president and general manager of Electronic Combat Solutions at BAE Systems.

David Snodgrass, vice president of the DAIRCM programme at Leonardo DRS, added that is company “is delighted to team with GA-ASI to provide our industry-leading and proven AN/AAQ-45 DAIRCM aircraft protection system to enhance MQ-9A survivability in support of this mission for USSOCOM”.

Work is underway on an engineering and test effort to mature the capability as a podded payload capable of operation on the MQ-9A aircraft in 2025.

The podded ABAD capability will provide detection and protection for the MQ-9A Reaper against both RF and IR threats using an EW system from BAE Systems and the AN/AAQ-45 DAIRCM system from Leonardo DRS. (Photo: GA-ASI)