The Reaper 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 and reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy and 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 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 an enlisted aircrew member to operate sensors and guide weapons. 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, shortwave infrared 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 rangefinder/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. The MQ-9 can also employ up to eight 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 MQ-9 has also been modified for extended range operations through the addition of external fuel tanks capable of holding 1,300 lbs of fuel. This provides for greater on station time and further range. The modification also adds an extra blade to the propeller and an alcohol-water injection system to improve takeoff performance.
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, consolidates control of the different flights to stateside locations, and as such, simplifies 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.
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)|ER: 11,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 4,000 pounds (602 gallons) | ER: 6,000 pounds (903 gallons)
Payload: 3,750 pounds (1,701 kilograms)
Max Speed: 240 KTAS
Range: 1,150 miles (1,000 nautical miles)| ER:1,611 miles (1,400 nautical miles)
Ceiling: Up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Armament: Combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II, and GBU-54 Laser 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: AFSOC, 50
(Current as of March 2021)