Minigun-Armed Mojave Drone Now Blasting Targets At 6,000 Rounds Per Minute

This is the first time Minigun pods have been live-fired from a drone in this class and there are already plans to expand on the capability.

byJoseph Trevithick|
General Atomics' Mojave short takeoff and landing drone armed with a pair of Minigun pods recently conducted a first-of-its-kind live-fire demonstration.


General Atomics' Mojave short take-off and landing drone armed with a pair of Dillon Aero DAP-6 Minigun pods shredded several static targets in a first-of-its-kind live-fire demonstration earlier this month. The company already has plans to further build on this new capability. This also comes as it is looking to pitch something of a hybrid of Mojave and its MQ-1C Gray Eagle to the U.S. Army as a new armed reconnaissance platform following the service's cancellation of its most recent armed scout helicopter program.

The DAP-6-armed Mojave engaged multiple ground targets in seven strafing runs across two separate sorties on April 13, according to a press release and accompanying video, seen below, that General Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) put out today. At one point in the video, a Chevy pickup truck is seen exploding. The 7.62x51mm rounds that a Minigun fires are not explosive, but the truck could've been rigged with explosives or fuel inside of it could have ignited.

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A total of 10,000 rounds of 7.62x51mm ammunition were fired across all seven passes, or an average of around 1,428 rounds per pass. GA-ASI conducted the live-fire demonstration, which it funded internally, at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

The rate of fire of the Minigun in a DAP-6 pod is 3,000 rounds per minute, according to Dillon. The combined rate of fire then of the two pods the Mojave carried during the demonstration was 6,000 rounds per minute. The DAP-6's maximum magazine capacity is also 3,000 rounds, which gives it 60 seconds of total firing time. The pod can be loaded with less ammunition to reduce its overall weight. When empty, a DAP-6 weighs 162 pounds (73.5 kilograms), but this grows to approximately 350 pounds (158.8 kilograms) when fully loaded.

A Dillon Aero DAP-6 gun pod on display. Joseph Trevithick

"Equipping the Mojave for this first-ever minigun demo involved a lot of ingenuity on the part of our engineers and pilot team, and great advice from the Dillon team," C. Mark Brinkley, GA-ASI's Senior Director of Marketing & Strategic Communications, told The War Zone in a statement. "It required hardware and software upgrades to equip the guns for use, and a variety of ground-based test firing events to accurately sight on targets with the guns firing from a fixed position on the wings. The zeroing target was a billboard-sized wall approximately four feet high and eight feet wide, set off in the distance."

"Once the pilot team understood the individual impact points for rounds fired from each gun, we were able to fly the demo and strike targets from the air," Brinkley continued. "In the future, we envision a system with rotating guns cued to the aircraft’s sensor ball, enabling greater range of targeting and flexibility."

The general idea of a gun pod where the weapons therein can articulate to various degrees is not new. The Soviet Union notably designed and fielded a number of such podded gun systems during the Cold War, as you can read more about here.

"Regardless, as far as initial tests go, we consider this one a resounding success," he added. "The aircraft carried and fired the weapons without incident. There were no issues with vibration or recoil. We’ll see accuracy and effectiveness increase as we continue our development."

A picture GA-ASI released in 2022 showing Mojave with a pair of DAP-6 gun pods and various missiles under its wings. GA-ASI

The War Zone highlighted the challenges of integrating a gun-based weapon system onto a drone like this when GA-ASI released the first picture of Mojave with DAP-6 pods under its wings back in 2022. At the time we wrote:

"It's not immediately clear how an operator would employ a gun pod-armed Mojave remotely, to begin with. Strafing targets on the ground, especially with a 7.62x51mm gun system, requires dynamic maneuvering close to the ground and a different level of situational awareness than most man-in-the-loop unmanned platforms, like those in GA-ASI's other product lines, are generally understood to be capable of. That has been a key reason for the focus on precision-guided munitions, which have a very different basic concept of employment and are usually employed at medium altitudes."

Gun pods like the DAP-6 are just some of the weapons that Mojave could potentially carry. Unveiled to the public in 2021 and first flown that year, Mojave has three hard points under each wing. The drone has also been shown loaded with AGM-114 Hellfires and AGM-179 Joint Air-to-Ground Missiles (JAGM) in the past. Since it was first revealed, GA-ASI has touted the uncrewed aircraft's ability to carry up to 16 Hellfires at once.

A graphic with details about Mojave's six underwing hardpoints. It is depicted carrying 16 Hellfire missiles, a loadout option that GA-ASI regularly highlights in discussions about this drone. GA-ASI

"Laser-guided munitions have always been the preferred strike option, for various reasons, and remain so today," GA-ASI's Brinkley told The War Zone in 2022. "That doesn’t mean we should rule out the idea of a gun pod for future UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] missions, including Armed Overwatch-type missions."

At that time, Brinkley also indicated that arming Mojave was gun pods was aspirational and said that GA-ASI had shared the picture of the drone with the DAP-6s under its wings to "inspire discussion" about what the design could offer in the future.

Compared to even advanced miniaturized precision-guided bombs and missiles designed to lower the risk of collateral damage, guns present advantages in terms of focusing fire on smaller targets or groups thereof. A gun-armed Mojave could be able to more rapidly shift focus from one target area to another from pass to pass than it would be able to with precision-guided munitions. All of this could be particularly valuable when providing close air support in dense urban areas or in other situations where friendly forces or innocent bystanders might be dangerously close to enemy positions. Guns also offer a way to engage larger area targets and provide suppressive fire.

Beyond its armament options, Mojave, which is derived from the earlier MQ-1C, is also designed to be ideally suited to operating from remote or austere locations with semi-improved landing strips and limited logistical support.

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GA-ASI is now also exploring the idea of using Mojave itself as a small logistics platform using underwing pods capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds of cargo. Other drones in the company's portfolio could also potentially carry those pods. The U.S. military sees diverse distributed logistics chains as increasingly essential for supporting future operations in contested environments, especially in the context of a potential future high-end conflict, such as one in the Pacific against China.

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In terms of its general performance, Mojave has demonstrated impressive short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities both on land and at sea. It made its maritime debut last year with a series of experimental flight tests that involved landing and taking off from the deck of the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, as you can read more about here.

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"Seeing our Mojave perform this live-fire demo really emphasizes the versatility of the Mojave UAS [uncrewed aerial system] and what it can do," GA-ASI President David Alexander said in a statement in today's press release. "Mojave has the ability to act as a sensor, shooter, and sustainer while mitigating threat environments and vulnerabilities and safeguarding human lives."

With all this in mind, GA-ASI is now working on a hybrid drone design that blends elements of Mojave and the MQ-1C called the Gray Eagle STOL, which Breaking Defense was first to report on. The company has also proposed a STOL kit for its MQ-9 Reaper family leveraging experience with Mojave in the past.

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The company has a particular eye on pitching the Gray Eagle STOL, which is still very much in the concept stage, to the U.S. Army as an armed scout and overwatch platform. In February, the Army announced it was canceling its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program, which was focused on the acquisition of a new armed scout helicopter, as part of a broader reshuffling of its future aviation plans to include a greater focus on uncrewed systems.

“We’re trying to jump into that [opportunity],” GA-ASI's Alexander told Breaking Defense in a recent interview when talking about pitching the Gray Eagle STOL as potential a gap-filler in the wake of the FARA program's cancellation.

"Our Mojave demonstrator aircraft is a technological extension of our modernized Gray Eagle, with an expeditionary short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. We believe a Gray Eagle STOL would offer the Army new attack reconnaissance capabilities unlike any previous uncrewed system," GA-ASI's Brinkley also told The War Zone. "We have already demonstrated Mojave's ability to operate from austere and rugged dirt roads, to take off and land from a ship at sea, and now to attack targets with machine gun fire."

A US Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle. The proposed Gray Eagle STOL design would blend elements of Mojave with this drone. Mojave is itself an MQ-1C derivative. US Army

It's worth noting here that the U.S. Army's elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment had also been looking toward FARA as a replacement for at least a portion of its AH/MH-6 Little Bird helicopters. The AH-6 subvariants are typically armed with a pair of Miniguns, as well as other weapons.

At the same time, there are significant concerns about the survivability and, by extension, the utility of non-stealthy medium-altitude armed drones like the MQ-1C, especially in higher-end battlespaces full of integrated air defenses and other threats. The need to fly lower to employ guns effectively presents its own risks. GA-ASI has been developing new capabilities, including pods loaded with expendable countermeasures and warning sensors, to help reduce the vulnerability of older drones in its portfolio. The company has also been working closely with the Army on other ways to help ensure the Gray Eagle's continued relevance going forward, including using it as an aerial launch platform for smaller drones, which are sometimes referred to now as 'launched effects.'

An MQ-1C releases a smaller Eaglet drone in a test. GA-ASI

"A Gray Eagle STOL can deploy air-launched effects of various sizes and capabilities, employ precision-guided munitions, and conduct contested logistics for ground resupply, easily transporting and delivering 1,000 pounds of cargo across 500 kilometers [approximately 310 miles]," Brinkley said. "The Gray Eagle has already conducted more than 200,000 launches and recoveries without incident using our Automatic Takeoff and Landing software, which reduces the ground personnel required to operate the aircraft and can be controlled via satellite from anywhere in the world. Gray Eagle STOL will share similar systems, to include the modernized avionics, datalinks, and laptop control system, with the modernized Gray Eagle 25M."

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how Mojave, which has now shown its ability to engage ground targets with gun pods, and the Gray Eagle continues to evolve.

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