U.S. MQ-9 Reaper Drones Stationed In Poland Spotted With New SIGINT Wing-Mounted Pod

The U.S. MQ-9 N428HK carrying the new pod and antenna on the right wing pylons. (Image credit: via Polish MoD)

The MQ-9 drones of the 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2 have started flying with a new SIGINT (SIGnal INTelligence) pod.

Some interesting photos were shared online by the Polish Ministry of Defense. They show one of the MQ-9 drones of the 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2, the unit operating MQ-9 Reaper drones in Europe, flying over Lask Air Base, Poland, with a brand new pod.

The pod seems to be the one used to house the L3 full-band Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) ISR capability, whose integration with the MQ-9 Reaper was announced during Paris Air Show 2019.

“Jointly funded by GA-ASI and L3, this new podded solution was developed in eight months and successfully flight tested in May 2019 on a GA-ASI MQ-9 operating from GA test facilities in Yuma, Arizona”, said the press release issued last year.

“The successful collaboration between L3 and GA-ASI provides a new dimension for ISR employment of MQ-9 aircraft and provides expanded options for warfighters in the ISR domain,” said Jeff Miller, L3’s Senior Vice President and President of its ISR Systems business segment. “L3 is excited to provide its family-of-systems (FOS) SIGINT payload into the unmanned air vehicle arena in cooperation with GA-ASI and looks forward to providing increased capabilities for GA-ASI’s current and future MQ-9 weapon systems customers.”

“We are excited to work with L3 Technologies to develop this capability for the MQ-9. Generating Electronic Order of Battle (EOB) is a key capability of strategic importance to the U.S. and its allies,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI. “Integrating L3’s world-class SIGINT system further enhances the MQ-9’s utility in the ISR arena.”

Although we don’t know whether the pod has already been delivered to other Reaper units around the world, the appearance of the new SIGINT pod on an MQ-9 Reaper based in Europe and often deployed to forward operating locations close to Russia is remarkable. The 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2, is a geographically separated unit assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, whose mission is to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and has been operating from the Miroslawiec AB, Poland, since May 2018.

The unit is assigned civilian registered, unarmed Block 5 Reapers which are flown and maintained by contractors, with the Air Force providing communications, intelligence analysis and force protection. The airframes registered N428HK and N429HK have been noted in the past. In July 2019, the MQ-9 drones of the Det. 2 relocated to Romania for a certain period because of construction works in Miroslawiec AB, Poland, and earlier this year, in July 2020, the unit’s Reapers deployed to Amari Air Base on Jun. 14, 2020, marking the very first time the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) deployed to Estonia.

The Reaper with registration N428HK is the one depicted carrying the SIGINT Pod in the photos released today. It seems quite likely that this MQ-9 will soon join the “armada” of ISR platforms keeping an eye on Russian activities in the Baltic (Kaliningrad) or the Black Sea (Crimea) in the future.

We will keep you updated.

The Aviationist’s Stefano D’Urso contributed to this post.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.