TechMarines' reaper drones boosted with cutting-edge electronic warfare

Marines' reaper drones boosted with cutting-edge electronic warfare

MQ-9A Reaper with an RDESS pod.
MQ-9A Reaper with an RDESS pod.
Images source: © U.S. Marine Corps | Cpl. Joseph Abreu

9:32 AM EDT, July 4, 2024

A photo of the MQ-9A Reaper drone belonging to the Marines equipped with the intriguing RDESS electronic warfare module has surfaced online. We explain why it is a crucial aspect of today's battlefield.

As highlighted by the portal The Warzone, the United States Marine Corps joined the ranks of MQ-9A Reaper drone users relatively late. The Marines' history with these drones dates back to 2018 when they used two borrowed units.

They only acquired two in 2020, with the ultimate plan to develop 25 drones by 2025. However, these drones are highly vulnerable to anti-aircraft systems. Even Houthi rebels from Yemen are capable of shooting them down, not to mention the Chinese, who are a potential adversary for the US Navy and Marines under the Department of the Navy.

For this reason, it is no surprise that the Americans decided to equip their drones with electronic warfare pods, likely based on the AN/ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II used on helicopters. One of these was displayed during the MSPO 2022 fair alongside the AH-1Z Viper helicopter. The Marine pilots present offered few comments, noting briefly that it is invaluable for missions.

From the limited information available, it was known that the AN/ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II can "actively mask" the signature of the object it is mounted on through the DRFM (Digital Radio Frequency Memory) technique or similar methods. This involves capturing the enemy radar signal, analyzing it, and then retransmitting an altered signal so that nothing appears on the enemy radar. This is possible because for the radar to operate, it must function at frequencies distinguishable from the background.

  • The AN/ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II electronic warfare pod with which RDESS may have a lot in common.
  • AN/ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II electronic warfare pod, with which RDESS may have a lot in common.
  • AN/ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II electronic warfare pod with which RDESS may have a lot in common.
[1/3] The AN/ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II electronic warfare pod with which RDESS may have a lot in common.Images source: © Own materials | Przemysław Juraszek

RDESS pod - ensuring "Reapers" survival on the modern battlefield

According to statements from Gen. Eric M. Smith, Commandant of the Marines, given to the Brookings Institution on July 2, 2024, the RDESS pod has identical properties. "It can mimic things that are sent to it that it detects, turn it around and send it back. So it becomes a hole, it becomes a black hole, it becomes mostly undetectable," he explained.

In its information about the RDESS pod, General Atomics also mentions its ability to detect radar signals or electronic warfare systems and geolocate them. This means that in real-time, it can send this data to the command, which can subsequently launch attacks on those locations using, for example, cruise missiles or perform airstrikes, such as with AGM-88E AARGM anti-radar missiles—an advancement of the older AGM-88 HARM missile that has proven effective in Ukraine.

The American Marines are well known for efficiently managing their budget and upgrading older systems to perform tasks effectively on the constantly evolving battlefield. Thanks to the RDESS modules, the "Reapers" will not just be targets to be shot down in combat with an equal adversary.

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