The General Atomics Avenger UAV is set to be used operationally by US forces in Afghanistan for the first time.
A single Avenger‘s been procured for the USAF as a means of boosting reconnaissance and strike efforts in that part of the world and, according to Flight Global, the single airframe order could be the first of its kind placed for this type.
Earlier this month, it emerged that Iranian forces had captured a US military RQ-170 Sentinel UAV, initial written reports later boosted by video footage highlighting the capture. Iran has since announced its intention to pick the RQ-170 apart, unlocking its secrets in order to develop a home-grown variant.
The General Atomics Avenger UAV was previously named the Predator C but differs from the same firm's MQ-1 Predator and Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) UAVs in being jet-powered. Incorporating stealth features designed to limit its profile as it appears on enemy radar, the Avenger also has a weapons bay and hi-tech avionics components shared with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
It's fully compatible with the ground control systems already used to support MQ-1 and MQ-9 operations, optimizing the ease with which it can be integrated into the USAF's UAV arsenal.
In light of the Iranian RQ-170 UAV capture, it's hoped that no such fate awaits this latest drone. Indeed, its deployment might be intended as a show of defiance but, in any case, it seems unlikely that the US will have the Sentinel drone returned any time soon.
"The American espionage drone is now Iran's property, and our country will decide what steps to take regarding it", Ahmad Vahidi - Iranian Defence Minister - told local news sources on 12 December.
The USAF Avenger Afghan deployment was detailed in a document published by the Federal Business Opportunities online resource.
'This aircraft will act as the test vehicle to develop those next generation UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System] sensors, weapons, and Tactics, Techniques & Procedures ensuring a quick, smooth and efficient fielding of these advanced capabilities to the area of operations', it stated.
‘This effort is an exceptional circumstance not only due to the need outlined by the SAF/AQ [Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition)] but because it fulfils a multi-agency role by providing a test platform for both Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) and customers under an ongoing, classified SECDEF [United States Secretary of Defence directed program.