The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has provided details of a new enhanced variant of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was first revealed by the Department of Defense (DoD) in a contract announcement from late January.

The USD34.03 million MQ-9 Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical (MALET) Lead-Off Hitter (LOH) contract is part of a rolling upgrade to the 37 MQ-9s procured by the US Air Force (USAF) on behalf of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) that has been on going since fiscal year 2013 (FY 2013), a spokesperson for USSOCOM told IHS Jane’s on 15 February.

Since FY 2013, the AFSOC’s MQ-9s have received hardware and software capability drops to the platforms themselves as well as to their operating and training stations, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Allen explained.

Under the Moving Target Tracking (Phase 1) effort, the MQ-9s have: had their standard definition electro-optical (EO) sensor replaced with a high-definition (HD) unit, with software that provides standardised location co-ordinates; been fitted with software to enable automatic detection and simultaneous open-loop tracking of 12 moving targets; received software enhancements to meet a directed communications requirement; and had secure video transmission to provide National Security Agency (NSA) type 1 line-of-sight (LOS) encrypted video (transmission only).