According to Aviation Week, Area 51, the Air Force area famous for being a top-secret military installation, is testing a new drone called RQ-180, which can conduct missions over “contested” or “denied” airspace and may be ready for use by 2015.
Built by Northrop Grumman for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, the drone is reportedly equipped to mount an electronic attack.
Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy, when questioned, reportedly responded, “The Air Force does not discuss this program.”
Aviation Week said the drone has a wingspan almost 130 feet across with a weight of an excess of 30,000 pounds. It can hover over its target for as long as 24 hours, 1,200 nautical miles from base. What makes the new drone so unique, according to Aviation Week, is that it combines a blend of aerodynamics and stealth, which heretofore had been mutually exclusive. Most importantly, the drone can be used over hostile airspace which is heavily defended.
In September, Gen. Robert Otto, who is the Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR, according to Aviation Week, reportedly 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.”