The rapid exit of US ground forces from Afghanistan has caused an unforeseen problem for forces in the region: Afghanistan's most remote regions are suddenly out of range of our conventional turbo-prop UAVs, making CIA interdiction against the Taliban nearly impossible. But a new generation of jet-propelled Predator drone will soon take to the skies and venture up to 2900km from its base.
With the recent falling out between the Obama and Karzai administrations, all US troops have to be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that without the use of Afghan airbases — which require direct US military protection — many American UAVs lack the endurance and range to continue surveillance and strike operations in northwest Pakistan, where the Taliban has been making steady inroads since the US announced its withdrawal. And that's where the new General Atomics Avenger comes in.
In development since 2009, the Avenger is an advanced third-generation prototype (following the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper) of the vaunted Predator drone system. However, unlike its predecessors, the Avenger utilises a turbofan engine rather than a conventional turboprop. While the platform's performance specs haven't been publicly released yet, GA engineers have estimated that the Avenger will meet or exceed the capabilities of the Reaper — hitting a top speed of at least 800km/h with a 15,000m operational ceiling and operating for up to 18 hours at a time.
Additionally, the new Avenger is 1.2m longer than its predecessor with a 20m wingspan. This provides more room for internal weapons storage — 1587kg in total — or additional fuel for longer loiter times. What's more, the Avenger will carry the same weapon load-out as the Reaper — a deadly mix of Paveway II laser-guided bombs, Hellfire II A-G missiles, Sidewinder A-A missiles, and JDAMs.
Most importantly, the Avenger's turbofan engine will provide just enough range to allow these vital unmanned aerial vehicles to continue to monitor the volatile and remote regions of Pakistan without the need to put American troops in danger. [LA Times - Wikipedia - Wired]