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RQ-180 operational, details revealed

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posted on Oct, 24 2019 @ 05:18 PM
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Aviation Leak




Thought to be dubbed the RQ-180, the advanced design is believed to have been flying since 2010 and under operational test and evaluation since late 2014. According to new information provided to Aviation Week, the aircraft became operational with the recently reformed 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. at Beale AFB, California, this year. The Air Force declined to comment on the status of the program.
...
With this mission accomplished, the RQ-180 was seemingly fit for initial deployment in 2017. And in quick succession during August that year, the 9th Operations Group stood up two new supporting units. Detachment 3 was established at Beale, while Detachment 4 was set up at Andersen AFB, Guam, representing a significant ramp-up in preparations for operational readiness. Detachment 3 had previously operated the RQ-4 out of Guam, while Detachment 4 had also formerly operated the Global Hawk out of Sigonella AB, Italy.
...

The assets and test personnel of the unit were believed to be immediately transferred to the newly activated 417th Test and Evaluation Sqdn., a unit which previously tested the C-17 and YAL-1 airborne laser. Until recently, the true test focus of the squadron—which was stood up in April 2018—was linked with preparations for B-21 testing. However, at this year’s Air Force Association meeting in September, it was announced that the new bomber test role has been assigned to the 420th Test and Evaluation Sqdn.

Further signs of RQ-180 regular operations support activity are believed to have been indicated by the activation during 2018 and early 2019 of Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group at Beale to serve as the schoolhouse unit for the aircraft. Given the 9th Operations Group’s role in training, planning and execution of U-2 ISR missions as well as training for RQ-4 flight crewmembers, this unit would be considered as a logical candidate to support and train RQ-180 operations.

In a final phase of changes this year, all of which have been focused on Beale, Detachment 3 of the 9th Operations Group was deactivated in April and its personnel and assets transferred and immediately activated again as the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn.—a shadowy unit that previously operated the MC-12W and was inactivated in November 2015 when these aircraft were transferred to the U.S. Army. However, evidence from open sources indicates the current commander of the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. has held this role since 2015, even though the unit officially did not exist for most of that period.



Surprised that noone has jumped on this, or maybe I missed it. Has a good program history outline at link.




posted on Oct, 24 2019 @ 05:22 PM
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Posted in one of the threads. Interesting read.



posted on Oct, 24 2019 @ 07:25 PM
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Ah, I missed it.



posted on Oct, 26 2019 @ 10:24 AM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

what about strikestar?



posted on Nov, 4 2019 @ 07:52 PM
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I just saw a recent aerial pic of Beale from a local overflight and noticed that a lot more U-2’s and Global Hawks were out on the ramp than usual. This would certainly support Beale using those hangars to stand this mission up.



posted on Nov, 5 2019 @ 09:12 PM
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a reply to: RadioRobert

So I guess we now know which project the 2007 Groom hangar was built for after all. I wonder if declassification is imminent. It's also a little surprising that they built so many many of them, and it sounds like at this point there might be damned near as many RQ-180s as there are operational U-2s.

It also makes me wonder what project that second, newer Groom hangar by the south end of the runway might have been built for.



posted on Nov, 5 2019 @ 10:28 PM
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a reply to: Barnalby

one of the other family members.....



posted on Nov, 5 2019 @ 10:37 PM
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a reply to: Barnalby

Something large that's time critical?



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 12:19 AM
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originally posted by: Barnalby
a reply to: RadioRobert

So I guess we now know which project the 2007 Groom hangar was built for after all.

They wouldnt build hangars before the project is even awarded.

Someone should try and draw up a timeline. That be fun.


It's also a little surprising that they built so many many of them, and it sounds like at this point there might be damned near as many RQ-180s as there are operational U-2s.

Maybe, but why is that relevant? The 180 is not a direct U-2 replacement. There's a reason why Lockheed bothered with UQ-2/RQ-X/TR-X post 2015.
The 180 may be capable of penetrating ISR, but i don't think it's even carrying comparable equipment. It mainly exists to morph NGB into LRS-B.

The U-2 already run into their replacement over Iraq in 02. Which if I had to speculate, was an RQ-3 follow on and the sort of black side of the Global Hawk program. Whether it got anywhere is another question.



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 01:34 AM
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a reply to: RadioRobert

"Aviation Leak" ? LOL.

ETA: Can't see the article at that link. Page loads but screen is blank.

Cheers
edit on 6-11-2019 by F2d5thCavv2 because: (no reason given)



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 08:45 AM
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originally posted by: mightmight
They wouldnt build hangars before the project is even awarded.

Someone should try and draw up a timeline. That be fun.

Maybe, but why is that relevant? The 180 is not a direct U-2 replacement...

...It mainly exists to morph NGB into LRS-B.


Yeah, that was sort of my thought, especially with the revised, ATB-style planform. This sounds a lot like a repurposing of a NGB testbed design, and I'll bet that the 2007 hangar was built to house an NGB prototype that either never flew or did but was unceremoniously cut up in the back of some Groom or Plant 42 hangar, and that the RQ-180 was birthed out of that aircraft's failure, possibly involving a modified demonstrator, which would explain why the -180 looks like a Lockheed Polecat on steroids.

Hell, I wonder if the Polecat itself wasn't related to some NGB demonstrator.
edit on 6-11-2019 by Barnalby because: (no reason given)



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 10:56 AM
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a reply to: Barnalby

Also, here's another thought: Does the relatively rapid procurement, the sheer volume of airframes built, and the fact that they're basing it somewhere as "ho-hum" as Beale indicate that rather than being some $2 billion a pop QUARTZ successor, the RQ-180 is likely far closer to the RQ-170 in terms of its design philosophy, capabilities, and per-unit cost?



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 11:03 AM
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a reply to: Barnalby

Pretty much yeah. The programs in the LRS and ISR realm of today have a shadowy history of precursors and relatives dating back to the Cold War. It's a very complex puzzle, and we don't have now the full picture.

The 2007 hangar is not a 2007 hangar. It's a 2005 hangar. They build it in 2006, which means they started planning for it in at least 2005. Possibly even earlier than that. Government and all that.
You can look it up yourself on Google Earth, the satellite photos for 11/14/16 show the hangar being build.

This is relevant, because the NGB requirement, let alone an actual prototype, wasn't a thing before at least 2006. People may not remember this, but the Air Force put the penetrating strike capability on J-UCAS. Classic capability creep and it resulted in the projects termination in the 2005 QDR which was released in early 2006.
It was only after the termination of J-UCAS that the US Air Force moved from an interim strike solution to a full-blown bomber in the short term. This was the 2006 NGLRS AoA which birthed the actual NGB effort, sometimes referred to as the 2018 bomber.
This bomber was insanely ambitious, do it all in one solution. It was supposed to be a penetrating and persisting platform with robust EW, SEAD and RECON capabilities.
I do think they were working on early demos (NGLRS-D) for that one when Gates canceled the effort in early 2009.
Anyway, the point is, NGB morphed from NGLRS paper studies to actual project development in late 2006. At that time the hangar at Groom was being built.
IE timelines don't add up, it's unlikely the hangar was built for NGB post J-UCAS.
So what is it for then?
I think it was built for the bomber effort they had going before they arrived at NGB.
This effort was based on the 1999 bomber roadmap which put the introduction of a new bomber at 2037 with R&D beginning in 2013.
There was also an interim effort, with spawned concepts like the FB-23 or the B-1R, and a couple of, say, associated concepts as well.
I believe that at least one of these resulted in at least a demonstrator effort, which resulted in the need to build a hangar for secret test flights.
Possibly even an early proof of concept vehicle for the 2037 bomber, or something in the associated realm of Global Strike/Global Persistent Attack which kinda was a thing post 09/11.
What was communicated at some point is that at least Lockheed went back for older demonstrator efforts (as in an actual build vehicle) when they had the LRS-B competition. I believe this was not just their NGB demo their build between 2006 and 2009 but a much older vehicle dating back to at least the 1999 future bomber roadmap.



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 11:08 AM
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originally posted by: Barnalby
Also, here's another thought: Does the relatively rapid procurement, the sheer volume of airframes built, and the fact that they're basing it somewhere as "ho-hum" as Beale indicate that rather than being some $2 billion a pop QUARTZ successor, the RQ-180 is likely far closer to the RQ-170 in terms of its design philosophy, capabilities, and per-unit cost?

I think it would be hard to envision a UAV that isn’t closer to the 170 than to QUARTZ ;-)
But yes, based on what others wrote on ats, ‘large airframe but as light as possible’.

Food for thought: Lockheed and Boeing were working on QUARTZ, Tier 3, Dark Star and Follow Ons for decades. Including very likely operational vehicles used in combat.
Why then did Northrop beat them for the 180?

edit on 6-11-2019 by mightmight because: (no reason given)



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 11:12 AM
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originally posted by: mightmight
But yes, based on what others wrote on ats, ‘large airframe but as light as possible’.


Aka a particularly large and well-equipped flying surfboard.



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 03:32 PM
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We have no idea what is the RQ-180, we hane no idea of this planform, some say its like a B-2 it must be more real than a Polecat style , may be it was housing in Groom 2006 hangar but , for the timing its clear that it is a 2003/2005 project. And there is no real proof that the RQ-180 realy exist, may be something like that between the lines.



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 04:04 PM
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a reply to: darksidius

We actually may:

www.abovetopsecret.com...



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 04:17 PM
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a reply to: anzha
It could be... look a lot like a B-2



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 04:35 PM
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a reply to: darksidius

It could be a B-2. It also could also NOT be: there are some differences in what was observed suggesting it is not.

A lot of the info that has spilled back has been that the RQ-180 is a flying wing or cranked kite.

So, what our guys saw is a strong maybe.



posted on Nov, 6 2019 @ 06:27 PM
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a reply to: anzha

I always figured that if they didn't just misidentify a B-2 due to optical illusions or whatever then they almost certainly caught one of the Raider prototypes or EMD birds out in the open. The 130' wingspan checks out, the narrower engine nacelles check out, and the proportionally taller "crew hump" also checks out.

Due to the convergent evolution inherent to stealth designs, I'll bet that trailing edge aside, this thing will be as similar looking to a B-2 as a 767 is to a 777.



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