The MQ-9B STOL can join operations from amphibious assault ships without a ski jump or catapult. It will land on the deck without the arresting cable as well. The new design features folding wings optimised for STOL and an enlarged v-tail. The new UAVs will operate from the U.S. Navy’s America-class Landing Helicopter Assaults (LHA) and Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships.
According to the company press release, the MQ-9B STOL can be fitted with sonobuoy pods to detect and track enemy submarines. The UAV has an endurance of 30 hours, and according to the promotional video, the MQ-9B STOL will carry AGM-114 Hellfire and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Therefore, the armed UAV will be suitable for Close Air Support (CAS) and air to air defence missions.
While remotely piloted aircraft aren’t commonly associated with air-to-air combat due to lack of time to control the plane, it is known that fire and forget type missiles have been tested in the past. A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper reportedly shot down another airborne drone in 2017. The missile is assumed to be either the FIM-92 Stinger missile or an AIM-9X sidewinder. It is known that another U.S. Air Force MQ-9 successfully shot down a drone with an AIM-9X missile in 2020.
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) currently plans to procure 16 MQ-9As through the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Systems Expeditionary (MUX) program.
The company stated that it began STOL development in 2017 as part of its Mojave initiative. STOL capability was first shown in 2021 on a modified Gray Eagle Extended Range platform, but the corporation will soon begin developing STOL on the MQ-9B. Installing the optional wing and tail kit will take less than a day. The body of the aircraft and its subsystems remain unchanged.
Operators can undertake the alteration in a hangar or on the flight line, providing a capability that would otherwise necessitate the purchase of a whole new aircraft.