USAF’s Secret New Long-Endurance Spy Drone Breaks Cover

U.S. Air Force photos of the Unmanned Long-endurance Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft (ULTRA) have been made public, lifting the curtain on a once-secret American spy drone. This sophisticated yet affordable drone, created by DZYNE Technologies, is now verified as deployed and functioning, offering a tactical advantage in modern surveillance.

The recent instability in the Middle East, particularly in the Red Sea, has served as a testing ground for Western military technology and strategy. The MQ-9 Reapers have proven invaluable for long-range surveillance and protection against terrorist threats on shipping routes and other missions. However, the Reapers have also shown vulnerability, leading to substantial losses of $30 million each.

The Reaper’s hefty price tag is attributed to its origins as a ground strike aircraft, later adapted for reconnaissance. Despite its advanced capabilities, only about 1% of its missions involve combat, making its deployment economically impractical and placing an expensive asset at significant risk. The Air Force urgently needed a more efficient alternative.

This is where DZYNE Technologies came into play. Collaborating with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI), DZYNE was tasked with developing a new, affordable, less vulnerable, and quickly deployable drone. “We needed to come up with a new drone that was inexpensive, less vulnerable, and could be put in the air quickly,” said Matt McCue, CEO of DZYNE, in an interview with Defense One.

The result was ULTRA, derived from an existing sports model aircraft and converted into a military-grade unmanned air vehicle using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) UAS technology. Although not as advanced as the Reaper, ULTRA is significantly cheaper and boasts an impressive endurance of 80 hours with a payload capacity of over 400 pounds (180 kg).

ULTRA is equipped with hardened GPS and a reconfigurable electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) array, radio frequency (RF), and other low-cost intelligence collection payloads. These payloads are more affordable than those on the Reaper, as ULTRA operates at a lower altitude, making COTS sensors viable. This cost-efficiency allows the Air Force to deploy more units, covering larger remote areas and conducting missions far from available airfields using “point and click” satellite command systems.

Air Force photos from recent deployments show ULTRA in action, although the precise location is still unknown to preserve strategic security.

Source: US Air Force

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