Aircrews perform a preflight check on an MQ-9 Reaper before it takes off on a mission in Afghanistan Oct. 1. The Reaper is larger and more heavily-armed than the MQ-1 Predator and attacks time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, to destroy or disable those targets. (Courtesy photo)
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on a ramp in Afghanistan Oct. 1. The Reaper is launched, recovered and maintained at deployed locations, while being remotely operated by pilots and sensor operators at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (Courtesy photo)
A maintenance Airman inspects an MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan Oct. 1. Capable of striking enemy targets with on-board weapons, the Reaper has conducted close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. (Courtesy photo)
An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Col. Lex Turner flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)
The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons -- it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets.
Reapers can also perform the following missions and tasks: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-laser, convoy/raid overwatch, route clearance, target development, and terminal air guidance. The MQ-9's capabilities make it uniquely qualified to conduct irregular warfare operations in support of combatant commander objectives.
The Reaper is part of a remotely piloted aircraft system. A fully operational system consists of several sensor/weapon-equipped aircraft, ground control station, Predator Primary Satellite Link, and spare equipment along with operations and maintenance crews for deployed 24-hour missions.
The basic crew consists of a rated pilot to control the aircraft and command the mission, and enlisted aircrew member to operate sensors and weapons as well as a mission coordinator, when required. To meet combatant commanders' requirements, the Reaper delivers tailored capabilities using mission kits containing various weapons and sensor payload combinations.
The MQ-9 baseline system carries the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, which has a robust suite of visual sensors for targeting. The MTS-B integrates an infrared sensor, color/monochrome daylight TV camera, image-intensified TV camera, laser designator, and laser illuminator. The full-motion video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused.
The unit also incorporates a laser range finder/designator, which precisely designates targets for employment of laser-guided munitions, such as the Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway II. The Reaper is also equipped with a synthetic aperture radar to enable future GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions targeting. The MQ-9 can also employ four laser-guided missiles, Air-to-Ground Missile-114 Hellfire, which possess highly accurate, low-collateral damage, anti-armor and anti-personnel engagement capabilities.
The remotely piloted aircraft can be disassembled and loaded into a single container for deployment worldwide. The entire system can be transported in the C-130 Hercules, or larger aircraft. The MQ-9 aircraft operates from standard U.S. airfields with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna, which provides line-of-sight communications for takeoff and landing. The PPSL provides over-the-horizon communications for the aircraft and sensors.
The primary concept of operations, remote split operations, employs a launch-and-recovery ground control station for take-off and landing operations at the forward operating location, while the crew based in continental United States executes command and control of the remainder of the mission via beyond-line-of-sight links. Remote split operations result in a smaller number of personnel deployed to a forward location, consolidate control of the different flights in one location, and as such, simplify command and control functions as well as the logistical supply challenges for the weapons system.
The U.S. Air Force proposed the MQ-9 Reaper system in response to the Department of Defense directive to support initiatives of overseas contingency operations. It is larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, and is designed to execute time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets. The "M" is the DOD designation for multi-role, and "Q" means remotely piloted aircraft system. The "9" indicates it is the ninth in the series of remotely piloted aircraft systems.
General Characteristics Primary Function: Intelligence collection in support of strike, coordination, and reconnaissance missions Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Power Plant: Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine Thrust: 900 shaft horsepower maximum Wingspan: 66 feet (20.1 meters) Length: 36 feet (11 meters) Height: 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) Weight: 4,900 pounds (2,223 kilograms) empty Maximum takeoff weight: 10,500 pounds (4,760 kilograms) Fuel Capacity: 4,000 pounds (602 gallons) Payload: 3,750 pounds (1,701 kilograms) Speed: Cruise speed around 230 miles per hour (200 knots) Range: 1,150 miles (1,000 nautical miles) Ceiling: Up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) Armament: Combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions Crew (remote): Two (pilot and sensor operator) Unit Cost: $56.5 million (includes four aircraft with sensors, ground control station and Predator Primary satellite link) (fiscal 2011 dollars) Initial operating capability: October 2007 Inventory: Total force, 104