General Atomics Drone Upgraded to Fight Cyber and Anti-Aircraft Threats

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General Atomics announced two major upgrades to its MQ-9A Reaper drones, meant to protect against cyber and anti-aircraft missile threats. The company stated it is going to integrate onboard cyber anomaly detection and predictive maintenance solutions by startup company ‘Shift5’ into the drone.

These enhanced capabilities are meant to assist in defeating malicious codes that disable the drone or steal valuable intelligence data, ensuring cyber survivability and enhanced mission readiness. General Atomics said in a statement: “The Shift5 platform reveals critical operational and cybersecurity insights that enable operators to move from data to decisions quickly and confidently…[It] deploys on premises or in the cloud to support streaming and air-gapped modes for offline and online capability.”

Furthermore, the MQ-9A Reapers will receive (in addition to the cyber solutions) a new Airborne Battlespace Awareness and Defense (ABAD) pod that can detect radio frequency (RF) and infrared (IR) threats that anti-aircraft weapons often used to go after their targets. This tech will enable the Reapers to better detect ground threats and quickly deal with them.

General Atomics President David R. Alexander stated: “Threat awareness and survivability are critical for MQ-9A to operate in contested environments,” adding that “ABAD will enable the tracking of RF and IR missile threats, enable defensive measures, and real-time threat awareness for MQ-9A.”

However, the Defense Post reports that this upcoming upgrade to the MQ-9A Reapers follows a series of serious setbacks – first in November 2023, a Reaper was shot down by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and happened again in February when a suspected Houthi surface-to-air missile caused another MQ-9 to crash.

Furthermore, the Russian military forces have also seemingly found an effective way to defeat the American drone – in a March 2023 aerial encounter between a Reaper and Su-27 aircraft, the Russian fighter reportedly dumped fuel on the Reaper over the Black Sea before colliding with it, causing the drone to crash.