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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?