General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

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MQ-9 Reaper
MQ-9 Reaper CBP.jpg
MQ-9 Reaper
Role Unmanned combat air vehicle
National origin United States
Manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
First flight 2 February 2001
Introduction 1 May 2007
Status In service
Primary users United States Air Force
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Royal Air Force
Italian Air Force
Number built 104 [1]
Program cost US$11.8 billion[2]
Unit cost
US$16.9 million (flyaway cost, 2013)[3]
Developed from General Atomics MQ-1 Predator
Developed into General Atomics Avenger

The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (formerly named Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight operations, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) primarily for the United States Air Force. UAVs are also referred to as drones. The MQ-9 and other UAVs are referred to as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the U.S. Air Force to indicate their human ground controllers.[4][5] The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.[6]

The MQ-9 is a larger, heavier, and more capable aircraft than the earlier MQ-1 Predator; it can be controlled by the same ground systems used to control MQ-1s. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine, far more powerful than the Predator's 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine. The power increase allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance payload and cruise at almost three times the speed of the MQ-1.[6] The aircraft is monitored and controlled by aircrew in the Ground Control Station (GCS), including weapons employment.[7]

In 2008, the New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing began the transition from F-16 piloted fighters to MQ-9 Reapers, becoming the first fighter squadron conversion to an all–unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) attack squadron.[8][9][10] In March 2011, the U.S. Air Force was training more pilots for advanced unmanned aerial vehicles than for any other single weapons system.[11] The Reaper is also used by the United States Navy, the CIA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, NASA, and others.

Then Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley said, "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper."[6]

Development[edit]

Satellite antenna and sensors of a NOAA-NASA flight demonstrator, 2005

With the success of the MQ-1 in combat, General Atomics anticipated the Air Force's desire for an upgraded aircraft and, using its own funds, set about redesigning the Predator drone for increased ability.

Prototype "Predator B"[edit]

General Atomics began development of the Reaper with the "Predator B-001", a proof-of-concept aircraft, which first flew on 2 February 2001. The B-001 was powered by an AlliedSignal Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-10T turboprop engine with 950 shp (712 kW). It had an airframe that was based on the standard Predator airframe, except with an enlarged fuselage and wings lengthened from 48 feet (14.6 m) to 66 feet (20 m). The B-001 had a speed of 220 knots (390 km/h) and could carry a payload of 750 pounds (340 kilograms) to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15.2 kilometers) with an endurance of 30 hours.[12]

The company refined the design, taking it in two separate directions. The first was a jet-powered version; "Predator B-002" was fitted with a Williams FJ44-2A turbofan engine with 10.2 kN (2,300 lbf, 1,040 kgf) thrust. It had payload capacity of 475 pounds (215 kilograms), a ceiling of 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) and endurance of 12 hours. The U.S. Air Force ordered two airframes for evaluation, delivered in 2007.[13] The first two airframes delivered with prototypes B-001 and B-002 (now in the USAF museum at Wright-Patterson AFB). B-002 was originally equipped with the FJ-44 engine but it was removed and a TPE-331-10T was installed so that the USAF could take delivery of two aircraft in the same configuration.

The second direction the design took was the "Predator B-003", referred to by GA as the "Altair", which has a new airframe with an 84-foot (25.6 m) wingspan and a takeoff weight of about 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg). Like the Predator B-001, it is powered by a TPE-331-10YGD turboprop. This variant has a payload capacity of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg), a maximum ceiling of 52,000 feet (15.8 km), and an endurance of 36 hours.[14][15]

U.S. Air Force version[edit]

First MQ-9 arriving at Creech AFB, March 2007

In October 2001, the U.S. Air Force signed a contract with GA to purchase an initial pair of Predator B's (001 and 002) for evaluation, with follow-up orders for production machines. The first test MQ-9s were delivered to the Air Force in 2002. The air force continued to refer to the system as "Predator B" until it was renamed Reaper. The name "Altair" became the designation for the unarmed (003) NASA version.[12]

Operators, stationed at bases such as Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, can hunt for targets and observe terrain using a number of sensors, including a thermal camera. One estimate has the on-board camera able to read a license plate from two miles (3 km) away.[16] An operator's command takes 1.2 seconds to reach the drone via a satellite link. The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons. The inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kilograms) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (90 kilograms) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pound (450 kilogram) external fuel tanks and a thousand pounds of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours.[15] The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions.[6] The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder,[16] and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition). Tests are underway to allow for the addition of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile.

The air force believed that the Predator B would give the service an improved "deadly persistence" capability, with the RPV flying over a combat area night and day waiting for a target to present itself. In this role an armed RPV neatly complements piloted strike aircraft. A piloted strike aircraft can be used to drop larger quantities of ordnance on a target while a cheaper RPV can be kept in operation almost continuously, with ground controllers working in shifts, carrying a lighter ordnance load to destroy targets.[15] In March 2011 U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that, while manned aircraft are needed, the Air Force must recognize “the enormous strategic and cultural implications of the vast expansion in remotely piloted vehicles” that already play a major role over Afghanistan and Iraq. “The view still lingers in some corners that, once I depart as secretary and once U.S. forces draw down from Iraq and Afghanistan in accordance with the president’s and NATO’s strategy, things can get back to what some consider to be real Air Force normal,” he said. “This must not happen.” Even as it buys new manned fighters and bombers, the Air Force must give equal weight to unmanned drones and “the service’s important role in the cyber and space domains.”[11]

By October 2007, the U.S. Air Force owned nine Reapers,[17] and by December 2010 owned 57 with plans to buy another 272, for a total buy of 329 Reapers.[18] On 18 May 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a certificate of authorization that allows the MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft to fly in U.S. civilian airspace to search for survivors of disasters. Requests had been made in 2005 for the aircraft to be used in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina but, because there was no FAA authorization in place at the time, the planes were not used.[19]

In September 2007, the MQ-9 deployed into Iraq at Balad, the largest U.S. air base in Iraq.[20] On 28 October 2007, the Air Force Times reported an MQ-9 had achieved its first "kill", firing a Hellfire missile against Afghanistan insurgents in the Deh Rawood region of the mountainous Oruzgan province. The strike was a success, as stated by the United States Central Command Air Forces.[21]

An MQ-9 taking off in Afghanistan

Critics have stated that the USAF's insistence on qualified pilots flying RPVs is a bottleneck to expanding their deployment. Air force Major General William Rew stated on 5 August 2008, "For the way we fly them right now"—fully integrated into air operations and often flying missions alongside manned aircraft—"we want pilots to fly them."[22] This may be exacerbating losses of Air Force aircraft, in comparison with US Army operations.[23]

The typical MQ-9 system consists of multiple aircraft, ground control station, communications equipment and links, maintenance spares, and military (or contractor) personnel. The crew consists of a pilot, sensor operator, and Mission Intelligence Coordinator. To meet combat requirements, the MQ-9 tailors its capabilities using mission kits of various combinations of weapons and sensors payloads. The Raytheon AN/AAS-52 multi-spectral targeting sensor suite includes a color/monochrome daylight TV, infrared, and image-intensified TV with laser rangefinder/target designator to designate targets for laser guided munitions. The Synthetic Aperture Radar system enables GBU-38 JDAM targeting, is capable of very fine resolution in both spotlight and strip modes, and has ground moving target indicator capability.

Testbed and upgrades[edit]

The Reaper is being used as a testbed for Gorgon Stare, a wide-area surveillance sensor system.[24]

In January 2012, General Atomics made available a new trailing arm design for the main landing gear of the Reaper. Benefits of the new gear include a 30%+ increase in landing weight capacity, an increase in gross takeoff weight by approximately 12% (10,500 lb vs. 11,700 lb), a maintenance-free shock absorber, which eliminates the need for nitrogen pressurization, a fully rejected takeoff brake system at a gross maximum weight of 11,700 lb, and includes provisions for automatic takeoff and landing capability and Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) field upgrades.[25]

In April 2012, General Atomics announced possible upgrades to Air Force Reapers. They include adding two fuel pods under the wings, each with about 100 gallons of fuel, and installing their new heavy-weight landing gear. This would increase endurance to 37 hours. The wingspan can also be increased to 88 ft, increasing endurance to 42 hours.[26][27] The USAF has bought 38 Reaper Extended Range (ER) versions. These aircraft carry external fuel tanks, the heavy-weight landing gear, a new fuel management system which ensures fuel and thermal balance among external tank, wing, and fuselage fuel sources, and an Alcohol Water Injection (AWI) system which shortens the required runway takeoff length; these features increase endurance from 27 to 33–35 hours. General Atomics is internally funding the wingspan increase, which would make the platform perform ISR only with a 42 hour endurance.[28]

In November 2012, Raytheon completed ground verification tests for the ADM-160 MALD and MALD-J for integration onto the MQ-9 Reaper. Integration onto the aircraft is expected sometime in 2013, with the goal for an unmanned suppression of enemy air defenses capability.[29]

On 12 April 2013, a company-owned MQ-9 successfully demonstrated the Reaper's electronic warfare capability at Marine Corp Air Station (MCAS) Yuma. The purpose of the demonstration was to see if a remotely piloted aircraft could be used as an electronic attack platform against enemy air defenses in support of tactical strike aircraft. The Reaper was equipped with a jamming pod and digital receiver/exciter. The UAV seamlessly integrated with the payload and performed its mission with over 20 participating aircraft.[30] A second electronic warfare test with the Reaper was conducted on 22 October 2013. The demonstration was conducted with other unmanned aircraft and EA-6B Prowlers. It was fitted with the Northrop Grumman Pandora EW System and was effective in a multi-node approach against a more capable IADS.[31]

At AUVSI 2013, General Atomics revealed it was in discussions with Raytheon to integrate weapons used on larger, manned aircraft, including the AIM-9X Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AGM-88 HARM. Tests are not yet planned, but General Atomics is doing an initial design review to explore the feasibility. With a 1,500 lb (680 kg) payload, its wings are "more than sufficient" to mount larger air-to-air or air-to-surface missiles. Internal funds are being used to build an AESA radar for the MQ-9. The main purpose would be collision avoidance, but the radars could be used operationally for targeting incoming air-to-air threats, searching for ground targets, and jamming enemy systems. Equipping the Reaper with these systems would create an opportunity to conduct counter-UAV missions. General Atomics is also considering equipping the MQ-9 with Link 16 to allow it to pass targeting coordinates and position information to manned aircraft.[32]

The Air Force Special Operations Command wants the ability to pack up an MQ-9 Reaper in less than eight hours, fly it anywhere in the world aboard a C-17 Globemaster III, and then unpack it and have it ready to fly in another eight hours. AFSOC wants to deliver large UAVs to support special operations teams to places without any infrastructure. The concept has been demonstrated with the smaller MQ-1, but delivering the Reaper this way is expected to take a few years. MQ-1 and MQ-9 drones must fly aboard cargo aircraft to travel long distances because they do not have the refueling technology or speed to travel themselves, and the C-17 is large enough to carry the aircraft with the systems to fly it and can land on short runways. Pilots traveling with the Reaper will use the ground control station to launch and land the aircraft, while most of the flying will be handed off to pilots in the U.S.[33]

Design[edit]

The typical MQ-9 system is composed of multiple aircraft, ground-control stations, satellites, and flight and maintenance crews.[7] The aircraft is powered by a 950 horsepower turboprop, with a maximum speed of about 260 knots (300 miles per hour or 483 km per hour) and a cruising speed of 150-170 knots (278 to 315 km/hour). With a 66 ft (20 m) wingspan, and a maximum payload of 3,800 lb (1,700 kg), the MQ-9 can be armed with a variety of weaponry, including Hellfire missiles and 500-lb laser-guided bomb units.[34] The Reaper has a range of 1,000 nmi (1,150 mi; 1,850 km)[dubious ] and an operational altitude of 50,000 ft (15,000 m), which makes it especially useful for long-term loitering operations, both for surveillance and support of ground troops.[35]

All Predator variants are designed for military operations, not to operate among crowded airline traffic. The Predator lacks systems capable of complying with FAA See-And-Avoid regulations.[36]

Operational history[edit]

U.S. Air Force[edit]

MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan in 2007
UAV Operators at Joint Base Balad (LSA Anaconda), Iraq, 20 April 2005

On 1 May 2007, the 432d Wing of the U.S. Air Force was activated to operate MQ-9 Reaper as well as MQ-1 Predator UAVs at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The pilots first conducted combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of 2007.[37] In October 2007 the USAF was flying operational missions in Afghanistan.[17] As of 6 March 2008, according to USAF Lieutenant General Gary North, the Reaper has attacked 16 targets in Afghanistan using 500 lb (230 kg) bombs and Hellfire missiles. On 4 February 2008 the MQ-9 dropped a bomb on a truck carrying an insurgent mortar and team near Kandahar.[38]

On 17 July 2008, the air force began flying Reaper missions within Iraq from Balad Air Base.[39][40] It was reported on 11 August 2008 that the 174th Fighter Wing of the USAF will consist entirely of Reapers.[41] By March 2009 the U.S. Air Force had 28 operational Reapers.[42]

On 13 September 2009, an MQ-9 was flying a combat mission over Afghanistan when positive control of the aircraft was lost resulting in the drone flying out of control towards the Afghan border with Tajikistan.[43] An F-15E Strike Eagle was sent to destroy it; the Reaper's engine was disabled with an AIM-9 missile. The satellite link with the vehicle was restored immediately after, leaving the operator no option other than to steer it into a mountainside along with its ordnance. It was the first time a US drone was destroyed intentionally by allied forces.[44]

Beginning in September 2009, Reapers were deployed by the Africa Command to the Seychelles islands for use in Indian Ocean anti-piracy patrols.[45]

As of July 2010, 38 Predators and Reapers have been lost during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with another 9 crashing during training operations in the U.S.[46] The U.S. Air Force conducted more than 33,000 close air support mission flights in 2010, an increase of more than 20 percent compared with 2009.[11] As of March 2011, the U.S. Air Force had 48 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols flying in Iraq and Afghanistan compared with 18 in 2007.[11]

As of March 2011, the U.S. Air Force was training more pilots for advanced unmanned aerial vehicles than for any other single weapons system.[11] In October 2011, the U.S. Air Force began operating Reapers out of Arba Minch in Ethiopia. It has been reported that these shall be used for surveillance only operations over Somalia.[47]

On 13 December 2011 an air force MQ-9 Reaper crashed at the Seychelles International Airport in Mahe, located in the Indian Ocean, 1,500 miles east of mainland Africa. The MQ-9 was not armed and no injuries were reported. The cause of the incident is unknown.[48] In 2012, the Reaper, Predator and Global Hawk were described as "... the most accident-prone aircraft in the Air Force fleet."[49] These figures must be taken with caution due to the nature of the aircraft that are often put in hostile or dangerous missions. However, the Predator and Reaper aircraft also have the highest operational readiness rate of any aircraft in the US DoD inventory, often exceeding 99% mission availability rate. These systems are extremely reliable by any standard.[citation needed]

Reapers and Predator drones were deployed in Benghazi, Libya after the attack that killed the US ambassador in that city.[50]

In February 2013, the U.S. stationed a Predator at Niamey to provide intelligence for French forces during Operation Serval in Mali. The Predator was quickly replaced with two MQ-9 Reapers. In April 2013, one of the Reapers crashed on a surveillance flight due to mechanical failure.[51]

On 22 October 2013, the U.S. Air Force's fleets of MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft reached 2,000,000 flight hours. The RPA program began in the mid-1990s, taking 16 years for them to reach 1 million flight hours. The 2 million hour mark was reached just two and a half years after that.[52]

On 12 November 2013, a MQ-9 Reaper crashed near the US/Canada border in Lake Ontario. It had taken off from Fort Drum, NY.[53]

NASA[edit]

NASA version Altair
NASA version Altair
NASA version Ikhana
NASA version Ikhana

NASA had initially expressed some interest in a production version of the B-002 turbofan-powered variant,[15] but instead has leased an unarmed version of the Reaper, which carries the GA-ASI company name "Altair". Altair is one of the first 3 "Predator-B" airframes. The other 2 airframes, known as "Predator-B 001" and "Predator-B 002", had a maximum gross weight of 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg). Altair differs from these models in that it has an 86-foot (26 m) long wingspan (20-foot (6.1 m) greater than early and current MQ-9s). The Altair has enhanced avionics systems to better enable it to fly in FAA-controlled civil airspace and demonstrate "over-the-horizon" command and control capability from a ground station. These aircraft are used by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise as part of the NASA ERAST Program to perform on-location science missions.[54]

In November 2006, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center obtained an MQ-9 from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The aircraft has been named Ikhana and its main goal is the Suborbital Science Program within the Science Mission Directorate. NASA also acquired a ground control station in a mobile trailer.[55] This aircraft was used extensively to survey the Southern California wildfires in 2007. The data was used to deploy firefighters to areas of the highest need.

The California Office of Emergency Services requested NASA support for the Esperanza Fire, and in under 24 hours the General Atomics Altair was launched on a 16-hour mission to map the perimeter of the fire. The Altair had just returned from a test mission a day before the Esperanza Fire started. The fire mapping research is a joint project with NASA and the US Forest Service.[56][57]

US Homeland Security[edit]

CBP's MQ-9 Guardian

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operated nine MQ-9s in August 2012. Two were based in North Dakota at Grand Forks Air Force Base, four were based in Arizona, at Fort Huachuca and one was based at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas.[58] These aircraft were equipped with GA-ASI's Lynx synthetic aperture radar and Raytheon's MTS-B electro-optical infrared sensors.[59] CBP also had two maritime MQ-9s called Guardians, based at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas.[60] The Guardians were equipped with the SeaVue marine search radar; their electro-optical infrared sensor was optimized for maritime operations.[58]

The United States Department of Homeland Security initially ordered one Predator B for border protection duty, referred to as MQ-9 CBP-101. It began operations 4 October 2005 and crashed in the Arizona desert on 25 April 2006. The NTSB determined (Record Identification: CHI06MA121[61]) that the cause of the crash was most likely pilot error by the aircraft's ground-based pilot in the use of a checklist. During its operational period, the aircraft flew 959 hours on patrol and had a part in 2,309 arrests. It also contributed to the seizure of four vehicles and 8,267 pounds (3,750 kg) of marijuana.[62] Because of these successes, a second Predator B, called "CBP-104" (initially referred to as "CBP-102"), was delivered in September 2006 and commenced limited border protection operations on 18 October 2006. The program was further expanded on 16 February 2009, including Canadian border patrols where US officials were concerned about the exploitation of the border by "drug smugglers, migrants and terrorists".[63]

The CBP-101 was equipped with the Lynx SAR, AX-15 payload, AN/ARC-210 radios, and other sensors and communications equipment; CBP-104 was enhanced with Ku-band satellite command and control link and an MTS-A EO/IR sensor.[62]

The President's FY 2006 emergency supplemental budget request added $45 million for the program and the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill added an additional $20 million. In October 2006, GA-ASI announced a $33.9 million contract to supply two more Predator B systems by the fall of 2007.[64]

In the 25 April 2006 accident involving aircraft CBP-101, the pilot, remotely operating the vehicle from Sierra Vista Municipal Airport, reported a momentary lockup of the displays on the primary control console. The pilot switched control to a secondary console without following the checklist and inadvertently shut down the vehicle's engine, causing it to descend out of reach of communications and ultimately crash near Nogales, Arizona.[61]

The CBP operates one MQ-9 Guardian jointly with the U.S. Coast Guard out of land-based stations in Florida and Texas.[65]

On 14 October 2013, an MQ-9 Predator B began patrolling the Manitoba portion of the U.S.-Canada border. The UAV is based at Grand Forks Air Force Base and will watch the 400 km (250 mi)-long border. The drone will not carry weapons and needs permission to enter Canadian airspace. U.S. authorities fear that drug smugglers, migrants, and even terrorists may exploit the long border. The use of the unmanned surveillance aircraft is an enhancement of the partnership between U.S. and Canadian agencies.[66]

In late January 2014, Customs and Border Protection grounded its UAVs after an operator ditched one of the unmanned aircraft off the California coast due to a mechanical failure on January 27, 2014.[67]

Other users[edit]

Australia[edit]

In September 2006, the General Atomics Mariner demonstrator aircraft was operated by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in an exercise designed to evaluate the aircraft's ability to aid in efforts to stem illegal fishing, drug running and illegal immigration. The Mariner operated from RAAF bases Edinburgh, South Australia and Learmonth, Western Australia in conjunction with a Royal Australian Navy Armidale class patrol boat, the Joint Offshore Protection Command and the Pilbara Regiment.[68]

Dominican Republic[edit]

The operation of the Predator UAV "Guardian" by the Dominican Republic under U.S. supervision and funding, was revealed on the national news in July 2012. The program had been running for more than a month prior to that announcement.[69]

France[edit]

On 31 May 2013, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed the order of two MQ-9 Reapers. The aircraft were to be delivered by the end of 2013. The Reaper was chosen to replace the EADS Harfang and was picked over the Israeli Heron TP.[70]

On 27 June 2013, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France for 16 unarmed MQ-9s, associated equipment, ground control hardware, and support, worth up to $1.5 billion total.[71] On 26 August 2013, France and the US Department of Defense concluded the deal for 16 Reapers and 8 ground control stations, with French operators beginning training.[72]

At Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on 24 September 2013, France's first pair of MQ-9 Reaper pilots conducted a two hour training sortie. Both French pilots had prior experience flying UAVs, and went through a five-week ground-based training course and 5 hours on a flight simulator before the first flight. Two additional crews are also currently receiving instruction on the aircraft at the U.S. facility. General Atomics is due to deliver two Reapers and one ground control station to the French Air Force by the end of 2013.[73] France declared that six pilots in three teams were operational on 26 November 2013. They logged 100 hours on flight simulators and performed 4 flights. French MQ-9 Reapers were planned to be put into action in January 2014 at Niamey Air Base in Niger to provide reconnaissance at borders in the Sahel desert.[74]

France's first MQ-9 Reaper flight occurred on 16 January 2014 from Niger. It took off at 7:30 a.m. and lasted for 40 minutes. The flight took place in a "local zone" and preparations were being made for its first operational flight. The first two Reapers to enter French service are designated Block 1 and use U.S. equipment. Further orders are to be modified with European payloads such as sensors and datalinks.[75] On 31 March 2014, French Air Force Reapers reached 500 flight hours in support of Operation Serval.[76] On 25 July 2014, news reports indicated that the French were using an MQ-9 Reaper to help locate and recover the wreckage of an airplane crash in Mali.[77]

Germany[edit]

Germany has made a request to purchase five Reapers and four ground control stations, plus related support material and training. The request, being made through the Foreign Military Sales process, was presented to Congress through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on 1 August 2008 and is valued at US$205 million.[78][79] However, Germany did not go through with this procurement for the time being and decided to lease the IAI Heron offered by IAI and Rheinmetall instead, initially for the duration of one year, representing a stop-gap measure before a long-term decision on a MALE-system is being made.[80][81][82][83]

Italy[edit]

On 1 August 2008, Italy submitted a FMS request through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency for four aircraft, four ground stations and five years of maintenance support, all valued at US$330 million.[78][84] Italy ordered two more aircraft in November 2009.[85] On 30 May 2012, it was reported that U.S. plans to sell kits to arm Italy's six Reapers with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs.[86] However Gen. Alberto Rosso has expressed frustration at American delays in integrating additional weapons onto the platform and suggested that Italy may have to seek UAS alternatives.[87] Italian Reapers were used:

  • in Libya, since 10 August 2011,[88] as part of its contribution to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector (flew about 300 hours)
  • in Kosovo, since 13 March 2012 [89] inbound NATO KFOR “Joint Enterprise" operation
  • on "Mare Nostrum" mission (Mediterranean sea, migrants search and rescue operation) by October 2013 [90]
  • into Afghanistan theater by January 2014.[91] (to replace Predator A+).

Netherlands[edit]

On 19 June 2013, General Atomics and Fokker Technologies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to offer the MQ-9 Reaper to the Dutch government for their need of a Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) UAV. The MOU recognizes that Fokker will assist in maintenance and support of the aircraft in the Netherlands if a deal goes through.[92]

On 21 November 2013, the Dutch Minister of Defense announced that the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has selected the MQ-9 Reaper as its new MALE UAV. The new MALE UAV squadron will be based at Leeuwarden Air Base. The Dutch MQ-9 will have the standard SAR radar and also a special ground search radar with more range and electronic sensors to detect ground radar and signals. The RNLAF will buy 1 ground station and 4 MQ-9 Reapers, of which 2 will receive the special radar and the others 2 will receive the electronic sensors. The aircraft will enter service from 2016 and should be fully operational at the end of 2017. The Squadron will have around 100 personnel. No weapons are planned for the Reapers so far.[93]

United Kingdom[edit]

On 27 September 2006, the U.S. Congress was notified by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency that the United Kingdom was seeking to purchase a pair of MQ-9 Reapers. They are operated by No. 39 Squadron RAF from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.[94] A third MQ-9 was in the process of being purchased by the RAF in 2007.[94] On 9 November 2007, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that its MQ-9 Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban.[95] In April 2008, following the crash of one of the UK's two Reapers, British special forces were sent to recover sensitive material from the wreckage before it was blown up to prevent the enemy from obtaining it.[96] By May 2011, five Reaper aircraft were in operation, with a further five on order.[97]

The second squadron to operate five MQ-9 Reapers for the RAF is XIII Sqn, which formally stood up on 26 October 2012.[98] No. 39 Squadron personnel were planned to gradually return to the UK in 2013 and in time both squadrons would each operate five Reapers from RAF Waddington.[99] In April 2013, XIII squadron started full operations from RAF Waddington, exercising control over a complement of 10 Reapers, at that point all being based in Afghanistan.[100] In April 2013, the UK Minister for Defense Equipment, Support, and Technology stated that the Defense Ministry was studying the adoption of MBDA's Brimstone missile for the MQ-9.[101] Britain's five Reapers can provide 36 hours of combined surveillance coverage in Afghanistan with individual sorties lasting up to 16 hours. The order of five additional air vehicles will increase that to 72 hours of coverage. As of 15 January 2014, RAF Reapers have flown 54,000 flight hours in Afghanistan and dropped 459 guided weapons from the remotely piloted air systems.[102] During December 2013 and January 2014, the British MoD conducted test firings of the Brimstone missile from an MQ-9 Reaper at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Missile launches were successful and hit static and high-speed maneuvering targets. Test results are being analyzed for the possibility of integration onto RAF Reapers and no further trails are currently planned.[103] Nine missiles were fired at an altitude of 20,000 ft at distances of 7 to 12 km (4.3 to 7.5 mi) from the targets. All nine scored direct hits against static, accelerating, weaving, fast, and very fast remotely controlled targets. Two targets were trucks traveling at 70 km/h (43 mph).[104]

The U.K. Ministry of Defence has decided that its Reaper fleet will be brought into the RAF's core fleet once operations over Afghanistan cease. Procurement of the MQ-9 was brought on by an urgent operational capability requirement and funded from the Treasury reserve, but induction into the core fleet will have them funded from the MoD's budget. The MoD decided to retain the Reapers for contingent purposes, mainly to perform ISR, until the indigenous Scavenger MALE UAV enters service around 2018.[105]

Variants[edit]

Naval version[edit]

General Atomics designed a naval version of the Reaper, named the "Mariner", for the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program requirements. The design would have an increased fuel capacity in order to have an endurance of up to 49 hours.[106] Proposed variations on the ultimate design included one designed for carrier operations with folding wings for carrier storage, shorter and more rugged landing gear, an arresting hook, cut-down or eliminated ventral flight surfaces and six stores pylons with a total load of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms).[15] The Northrop Grumman RQ-4N was announced the BAMS winner.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operates two maritime variants of the MQ-9, known as Guardians.[58] The U.S. Coast Guard evaluated the Guardian, including performing joint operations with CBP.[107] The CBP and the Coast Guard operates one MQ-9 Guardian jointly out of land-based stations in Florida and Texas.[65]

MQ-9 Block 1-Plus[edit]

On 24 May 2012, General Atomics conducted the successful first flight of its upgraded MQ-9 Block 1-plus Reaper. The Block 1-plus was designed for increased electrical power, secure communications, auto land, increased Gross Takeoff Weight (GTOW), weapons growth, and streamlined payload integration capabilities. Featuring a new high-capacity starter generator, the aircraft offers an increase in electrical power capacity over the current Block 1 design. This increased power provides the aircraft with significant capacity for growth. The upgraded electrical system includes a backup generator which is sufficient to support all flight critical functions. This vastly improves the reliability of the electrical power system by providing three independent power sources. New communications capabilities will be available, including dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas, allowing for simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties; secure data links; and an increased data transmission capacity. The new trailing arm main landing gear will be included, enabling the aircraft to carry heavier payloads or additional fuel. Development and testing were completed, and Milestone C was achieved in September 2012. Follow-on aircraft will be redesignated MQ-9 Block 5.[108][109] On 15 October 2013, the air force awarded General Atomics a $377.4 million contract for 24 MQ-9 Block 5 Reaper UAVs.[110]

Operators[edit]

 France
 Italy
 Netherlands
 United Kingdom
 United States

Specifications[edit]

Honeywell turboprop
MQ-9 Reaper taxiing

Data from USAF Fact Sheet,[7] Globalsecurity.org[115]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 0 onboard, 2 in ground station
  • Length: 36 ft 1 in (11 m)
  • Wingspan: 65 ft 7 in (20 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)
  • Empty weight: 4,901 lb (2,223 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 10,494 lb (4,760 kg)
  • Fuel capacity: 4,000 lb (1,800 kg)
  • Payload: 3,800 lb (1,700 kg)
    • Internal: 800 lb (360 kg)
    • External: 3,000 lb (1,400 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop, 900 hp (671 kW) with Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC)[116]

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 300 mph; 260 kn (482 km/h)
  • Cruising speed: 194 mph; 169 kn (313 km/h) [117]
  • Range: 1,151 mi; 1,852 km (1,000 nmi)
  • Endurance: 14 hours fully loaded[118]
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,240 m)
  • Operational altitude: 25,000 ft (7.5 km)[119]

Armament

  • 7 hardpoints
  • Up to 1,500 lb (680 kg) on the two inboard weapons stations[120]
  • Up to 750 lb (340 kg) on the two middle stations[120]
  • Up to 150 lb (68 kg) on the outboard stations[120]
  • Center station not used

Avionics

  • AN/APY-8 Lynx II radar[121]
  • Raytheon SeaVue Marine Search Radar, on the Guardian variants[58]
  • AN/DAS-1 MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System[122]

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists

References[edit]

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  • This article contains material that originally came from the web article Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by Greg Goebel, which exists in the public domain.

External links[edit]