Going where no UAS has gone before: Introducing Mojave


American special operations troops don’t get to pick and choose where they’re deployed on some of the most difficult missions in the world. So they not only need the finest support -- they need it to be able to go anywhere.

Those missions aren’t getting any easier, and the demand for them and on special operations units isn’t going away. The good news is that today’s forces benefit from 20 years of nonstop innovation, much of which has been enabled by unmanned aircraft systems.

That’s why the moment is right for an entirely new UAS dedicated to the particular needs of special operations troops and other high-demand users. Following years of preparation and months of successful test flights, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. is unveiling its next revolutionary UAS: Mojave.

If Mojave looks initially familiar, that’s because it should. The system takes advantage of all the hard-proven, best-of-breed characteristics that have made its earlier siblings, including the MQ-9 Reaper and the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, the most successful aircraft of their kind. Operators can use direct-line-of-sight or beyond-line-of-sight satellite control. They take command using a highly advanced and yet user-friendly control interface. Mojave’s airframe configuration is well proven.

Look a little closer, though, and Mojave isn’t so similar. That’s a big, tough new landing gear under the fuselage – which enables short-field takeoffs and robust weapons payloads, as well as some operations from ships at sea and the use of semi-improved airfields.

And those wings are stubbier but sturdier too, with an expanded set of payload stations. Mojave can accommodate an unprecedented new bombload of up to 16 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other ordnance – including forward-firing weapons such as the Dillon Aero M134D-H minigun, as well as sensors or other payloads as needed. The aircraft can haul as much as 3,600 pounds if needed – more than twice that of Gray Eagle.

Other improvements can be found underneath the skin, including the highly reliable and well-proven Rolls-Royce M250 turboshaft engine; high-resolution electro-optical infrared sensor in the nose; the Eagle Eye Long-Range radar – with its synthetic aperture, moving target indication and other capabilities – and beyond, including signals intelligence and communications relay hardware.

As an unmanned aircraft, Mojave has no onboard crew to put into danger over a combat zone, or support on a lengthy deployment, but that’s only the beginning of the value it offers. It also showcases endurance and flexibility unlike any competitor.

With more than 24 hours of flight time in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance configuration when the aircraft is “clean” – i.e., when it has no external stores loaded – Mojave easily outperforms any other human-crewed fixed-wing turboprop light aircraft. It also can self-deploy from a U.S. or friendly base, arrive at its patrol station, and immediately get to work.

Operational Flexibility With STOL

The rough field and short takeoff capabilities mean Mojave has many more options about where it might operate. In a scenario in which it deployed from the United States, it might then land at a base in use by American special operations forces or their partner units, refuel, take on weapons and then launch again for another mission.

Pilots could handle the aircraft from the local operational area or, using satellite takeoff and landing, crews might fly Mojave from a remote station somewhere else, or both – whichever the mission needed.

Special operations commanders have many other options, though: They could bring Mojave into the operating environment packed with other equipment in a C-130 Hercules or C-17 Globemaster III and then set up the aircraft onsite.

Picture American forces operating from an austere forward location with no hard shelters or paved runways. A transport aircraft could arrive with Mojave in a high state of readiness – including with some fuel already onboard. Troops on the ground would need only about three hours, expeditionary equipment and hand tools to assemble the aircraft and then launch.

The particulars depend on mission needs and local arrangements. In another example, imagine that American and allied forces were operating from a conventional airbase with hangars, overhead cranes, and more complete support equipment. Commanders might deploy transport aircraft that had been cargo-loaded with a greater number of Mojave aircraft and support equipment, but which would necessitate more preparation upon arrival -- because the facilities permitted that.

Mojave’s short-takeoff and endurance parameters also flex with the mission. An unarmed aircraft sent up for an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission could get airborne in less than 1,000 feet and stay aloft for more than 20 hours. Longer runways and more fuel permit greater endurance, of up to around 27 hours.

Armed Overwatch Ready

A combat-loaded Mojave lifts off for another sortie from an austere runway in this illustration by GA-ASI. The aircraft can carry as many as 16 AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles or a mix of ordnance, sensors or other payloads with a maximum with of about 3,600 pounds.

Likewise for the armed overwatch or attack roles: Suppose U.S. troops armed a Mojave with 12 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. With around 1,600 feet of runway, the aircraft could stay overhead and support them for more than 9 hours.

The nicer the airfield, the longer the runway, the more Mojave can do – but special operations forces often don’t get to go nice places. Sometimes all they have is a grass strip in a jungle clearing, or a stretch of sand, or a dry lakebed. That’s OK. Mojave can handle it.  

And although the particulars can vary depending on the fuel, runway, ordnance and other factors of a mission, one thing is constant: Mojave outranges, out-endures and outshoots any small, human-crewed turboprop aircraft in the armed overwatch role.

A detachment of Mojaves, working in concert with other U.S. and allied forces, will change the way special operations forces fight. American or friendly troops could have constant surveillance over an area of interest well ahead of an operation, armed support during it, and then lingering surveillance after they had returned to base.

New network and hardware also give friendly forces more control than they’ve ever had before, including in the hands of joint terminal attack controllers on a mission with special operations forces. Using a small, off-the-shelf tablet about the size of a hardcover book, they can take control of Mojave’s aiming sensors and direct ordnance precisely to where it is needed, with no need to try to talk a distant pilot onto a target over the radio.

This isn’t notional, or theoretical, or conceptual, or planned – it’s proven. That’s true virtually across the board: From the JTAC remote targeting employment to the automatic satellite takeoff and landing and beyond, the hardware and the systems required to deploy Mojave aren’t from a Chuck Norris movie. They’re here today.

For more information contact:
GA-ASI Media Relations
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
+1 (858) 524-8108

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