Spc. Devin Pisani, an Unmanned Aerial System Maintainer, with Delta Company, 25th Aviation inspects the airframe of an MQ-1C Gray Eagle before take-off at Fort Wainwright, Alaska's Ladd Army Airfield. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

It will fly at a high altitude.

You will not see it, you will not hear it. Until it’s too late.

In fact, it will be the bringer of death, like no covert weapon ever before.

Better yet, it can operate from island nations without developed airfields or paved runways, such as Indonesia or the Philippines, or even to international customers such as Italy for shipboard operations.

Be sure, it will find you, and kill you.

A good thing, you say? Well … you can decide. All I know is, it will be a lethal new weapon, in the hands of military folks, who don’t really seem to give a damn about collateral damage.

We are talking about a deadly new drone prototype built and flown by General Atomics, and revealed by sources to Valeria Insinna, at Breaking Defense online, during the Dubai Airshow 2021.

This new drone will carry significantly more firepower than the US military’s current unmanned aircraft inventory, including the capability to launch a whopping 16 Hellfire missiles, the report said.

The unmanned aerial system — whose existence has not been previously been reported — made its first flight this summer at the company’s Desert Horizon test grounds in the Mojave Desert, two sources with knowledge of the program told Breaking Defense.

General Atomics spokesman C. Mark Brinkley declined to comment, the report said.

The new drone, which was funded with internal investment funds, features key enhancements meant to make it more suitable to operate in austere conditions.

It needs less than 800 feet to take off or land the aircraft, making it possible to launch and recover it from rough airfields, dirt roads, dry riverbeds, or possibly even onboard ships, one source said.

Its maximum payload of 16 Hellfire missiles is double the MQ-1C Grey Eagle’s Hellfire loadout, and four times as much as the typical number carried by the MQ-9 Reaper, the report said.

The new drone’s design borrows heavily from the extended range version of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, the sources said, but has noticeably longer wings.

It also features avionics and other capabilities — like automated takeoff and landing — taken from other General Atomics platforms.

A source acknowledged that arming the aircraft with a full load of 16 Hellfires will take a toll on the aircraft’s endurance, while cutting down on space, power and cooling for sensors or other mission systems.

However, the company believes that shortfall is overcome by the drone’s ability take off closer to a conflict and quickly launch some of its missiles, thus dropping weight from the aircraft and lengthening the time it can stay in the air, the report said.

“If you can take off from anywhere and rapidly reload, it changes your endurance,” the source said. “As you’re unloading ordinance, you actually are extending your time [on station].”

The name and designation of the new drone have not been disclosed, but General Atomics intends to roll out photos and specifications of the system by the end of the year, the sources said.

General Atomics has not begun discussions with the US military or potential international customers about the drone yet, so this was likely a deliberate leak to wet the appetite of the US military.

The system was designed with Army’s Future Command and Special Operations Command in mind — particularly SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program — and could also be a natural fit for the Marine Corps, the source said.

SOCOM has narrowed its field of potential Armed Overwatch competitors to three manned aircraft: the Textron AT-6E Wolverine, L3Harris AT-802U Sky Warden, and Sierra Nevada Corporation M28/C-145 Wily Coyote, according to Aviation Week.

But one source said General Atomics believes SOCOM could re-evaluate its pool of contenders after seeing the capabilities of the new UAS.

This week, the New York Times revealed that the US hid a deadly drone strike that killed dozens of women and children in Syria.

The military never conducted an independent investigation into a 2019 bombing on the last bastion of the Islamic State, despite concerns about a secretive commando force, who ordered the attack.

The Baghuz strike — now considered a possible war crime — was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the US military. 

The Times investigation found that the bombing had been called in by a classified American special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria.

Civilian observers who came to the area of the strike the next day found piles of dead women and children.

A human rights organization posted photos of the bodies, calling it a “terrible massacre.”

Meanwhile the US inspector general has declined to release a top secret report on the deadly blunder or discuss its findings.

Sources: Breaking Defense, New York Times, Aviation Week