USAF's New Drone Not Going to Afghanistan


Two weeks ago news reports emerged claiming that the Air Force will be sending a one-off copy of General Atomics Predator C Avenger UAV to Afghanistan where it would be tested in a combat environment.

The reports were based off an Air Force solicitation announcing its intention to buy the jet-powered drone and test out its ability to perform ISR missions and drop weapons downrange.

However, I revisited the solicitation last Friday and noticed that it was updated on Dec. 14 to say "cancelled."

I contacted General Atomics about this on Friday and here's what company spokeswoman Kimberley Kasitz told me via email:

To our knowledge, this solicitation has not been cancelled.  What may be happening here is that the solicitation was incorrect to say that the aircraft would be deployed to Afghanistan.  This procurement is designed for R&D only at this time.

She added later that day, "our understanding is that this procurement will be as a test asset."

I contacted the Air Force on Monday and received an email today from spokesman, Lt. Col. John Haynes, confirming what Kasitz said:

One Predator C aircraft will be procured by the US Air Force for test and evaluation of the system's performance characteristics only. It will be assigned as a test aircraft and operated by Air Force Materiel Command. There is no intention to deploy the aircraft in the war in Afghanistan at this time.

The solicitation has since been updated to erase any signs that it ever said cancelled. The part saying where the aircraft will be used has been redacted.

The Predator C "will be used as a test asset in [redacted] and will provide a significantly increased weapons and sensors capability on an aircraft that will be able to fly to targets much more rapidly than the MQ-9 UAS," reads the document.

As Aviation Week recently noted, this could be an effort to restart the services dormant MQ-X next-gen combat UAV program that was put on hold so that the service could develop requirements for a more stealthy and survivable drone. With budget cuts looming, the Air Force may want to get an existing jet into the field quickly so as to avoid the difficulties in launching a brand new program.

Click through the jump to read the latest version of the solicitation.

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