The rapid exit of US ground forces from Afghanistan has caused an unforseen 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 1800 miles 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 utilizes 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 500 mph with a 50,000-foot operational ceiling and operating for up to 18 hours at a time.
Additionally, the new Avenger is four feet longer than its predecessor with a 66-foot wingspan. This provides more room for internal weapons storage—3,500 pounds 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]