Initial Operational Capability (IOC):
Origin: United States of America
Parent System: RQ-180
Initial Operational Capability (IOC): 2015
Maiden Flight: 2012
Total Production: ?
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Description: The United States Air Force (USAF) RQ-180 is an advanced stealth unmanned aircraft featuring improved and optimized stealth coating, design and aerodynamics. The RQ-180 primary role is to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in formerly denied or contested areas protected by air defenses and search radars assuming the role reserved for the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft until its retirement in 1998. The development of the new surveillance drone started in 2008 with a contract awarded to Northrop Grumman. In December 2013 the US Air Force was officially testing the new RQ-180 at Area 51, Nevada. The drone is expected to enter production and achieve initial operational capability (IOC) by 2015 or later.
The RQ-180 is similar in size to the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), weighs roughly 15 tons at takeoff and can operate for 24 hours at ranges in excess of 1,200 nautical miles (2,100+ km) from its base. The advanced aerodynamics are intended to increase the range, flight altitude and time on station. In terms of radar stealth, the RQ-180 is superior to the F-117, F/A-22 and F-35 aircraft with the airframe's design optimized to provide protection from low- and high-frequency radar emitters from all directions.
On April 19, 2014, a meteor/fireball incident occurred over the skies above Murmansk Oblast. An unconfirmed report from Sorcha Faal suggested that the fireball was in fact an RQ-180 surveillance UAV shot down by the Russians using a laser-based weapon system or some other sort of advanced weapon system. Apparently, the spy UAV controlled from US forces in Norway was gathering information about the Northern Fleet headquarters in Severomorsk and the Gadzhiyevo Naval Base homing two Borey-class ballistic submarines.
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