A General Atomics Mojave drone prototype seen during testing.

A General Atomics Mojave drone prototype seen during testing. General Atomics

General Atomics Unveils New Drone That Carries 16 Hellfire Missiles 

The Mojave, marketed for special forces, doesn’t need a traditional runway to launch.

General Atomics unveiled a new drone Thursday that can carry 16 Hellfire missiles and take off from a dirt road or even an aircraft carrier.

Called Mojave, the drone is meant to appeal to special forces fighting in the types of conflicts that have dominated the U.S. military’s attention for the past two decades.

“We think this is a very efficient way to get you persistence and get somewhat runway-independent,” David Alexander, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, told reporters Wednesday.

At a time when defense companies are touting fast-flying hypersonic missiles, stealth bombers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles geared toward fighting a war with a peer competitior, the revelation of Mojave shows defense companies are still making weapons for counterinsurgency. 

Breaking Defense first reported the existence of the drone last month.

Mojave looks like an MQ-1C Grey Eagle body got an MQ-9 Reaper tail with more canted vertical stabilizers.

Two and a half years ago, Alexander said, GA engineers envisioned a drone that would eliminate the need for a runway by taking off vertically like a helicopter. But that meant sacrificing either payload or flight time.

“You're fighting physics and you end up with something that doesn't persist,” he said.

So the company instead decided to build a drone that looks similar to its Reaper and Grey Eagle, but with changes to the wings and landing gear that allow Mojave to take off from a much shorter runway. The drone is powered by a 450-horsepower turboprop engine. It flew for the first time earlier this summer and has been progressing through flight tests. 

Mojave needs less than 600 feet to take off.

“We think we can get down into the 400[-foot] range with some practice,” Alexander said.

The drone could even operate from an aircraft carrier, with no need for the catapults that launch a naval air wing’s other fixed-wing aircraft, he said.

“All you’ve got to do is get that carrier going at least 20 knots and you can take off and land within about 300 feet,” Alexander said.

The company believes its drone should be part of U.S. Special Operations Command’s “Armed Overwatch” effort to buy a turboprop that supports troops on the ground with intelligence and firepower.

“We haven't given up on that,” Alexander said. “We're still pushing it. I think…it's a mistake not to include an unmanned aspect to that program.”

General Atomics declined to name specific parts of the U.S. military or allies it has spoken with about the new drone, but acknowledged that some U.S. defense officials have seen it.