Military sources have told CNN that a new stealth drone
built by Northrop Grumman will give the United States a big advantage to spy on countries with strong air defense systems.
The Air Force this week declined to comment on the drone, called RQ-180, which was first reported by Aviation Week and Space Technology
on Dec. 6.
The RQ-180 drone reportedly carries radio-frequency sensors such as active, electronically scanned array radar and passive electronic surveillance measures. The drone is capable of electronic attack missions.
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The aviation magazine reported that the Air Force and Northrop Grumman would not comment.
"The Air Force does not discuss this program," Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy said.
Defense and intelligence officials said that the hush-hush drone was created for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes, and it could be operational by 2015.
"This aircraft's design is key for the shift of Air Force ISR assets away from 'permissive' environments — such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where Northrop Grumman's non-stealthy Global Hawk and General Atomics' Reaper operate — and toward operations in 'contested' or 'denied' airspace," Aviation Week reported.
Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR, told Aviation Week in September that the service's "first priority" in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance is "to rebalance and optimize our integrated ISR capabilities.
"The mix is not where it needs to be," Otto said. "We are over-invested in permissive ISR and we have to transform the force to fight and win in contested environments. We will seek a more balanced fleet of both manned and unmanned platforms that are able to penetrate denied airspace and provide unprecedented levels of persistence."
U.S. Naval Institute News reported
Monday that the leaking of the RQ-180 news may a stealth way to win Pentagon funding among Congressional budget hawks.
"But if the RQ-180 does exist, why would these Pentagon officials let the cat out of the bag?" U.S. Naval Institute News reported. "The answer could be the budget — program leaks are typically designed to accomplish a specific task. In this case, the goal might be to secure funding for the new RQ-180 while convincing the U.S. Congress to let go of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk program."
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