In an interview in 2015, the Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, told Scout Warrior that the service had begun the process of adding new weapons to the Reaper, a process which will likely involve engineering a universal weapons interface.
“We are looking at what kind of weapons do we need to integrate in. We’re looking at anything that is in our inventory, including the small diameter bomb. We’re working to get universal armament interface with an open mission systems architecture,” Bunch said.
A universal interface would allow the Reaper to more quickly integrate new weapons technology as it emerges and efficiently swap or replace bombs on the drone without much difficulty, Bunch explained.
“If I can design to that interface, then it costs me less money and takes me less time to integrate a new weapon – I don’t want to go in and open up the software of the airplane. As long as I get the interface right, I can integrate that new weapon much sooner,” he added.
Drone attacks from further ranges could reduce risk to the platform and help strikes against Al Qaeda or ISIS targets to better achieve an element of surprise. At the same time, the GBU-38 is also designed for major-scale force-on-force warfare against a near-peer.
Furthermore, additional air-to-surface guided weapons could add mission possibilities to the current Hellfire and laser-guided bombs able to hit smaller and mobile targets, enabling the Reaper drone to have success with attacks against groups of ISIS or other enemy fighters that reduce the risk of hurting nearby civilians.
Both ISIS and Al Qaeda are known for deliberately seeking to blend in with civilian populations to better protect themselves from U.S. drone strikes.
Other potential advantages to adding to the arsenal of weapons able to fire from the include an improved ability to strike smaller targets, mobile targets or terrorists, such as groups of enemy fighters on-the-move in pick-up trucks and enemies at further ranges.
Also, at some point in the future it may not be beyond the realm of possibility to arm the Reaper for air-to-air engagements as well.