May 4, 2010

The World’s Deadliest Drone: MQ-9 REAPER

mq-9-reaper-worlds-deadliest-drone
Photograph by U.S. Air Force


OVERVIEW

- The MQ-9 Reaper (originally the Predator B) is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (also known as a Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV)) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) for use by the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, Italian Air Force, and the Royal Air Force. The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance

- Although the MQ-9 can fly pre-programmed routes autonomously, the aircraft is always monitored or controlled by aircrew in the Ground Control Station and weapons employment is always commanded by the pilot. Hence the preference to refer to the MQ-9 as a Remotely Piloted Vehicle

- Operators 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 (3.2km) away

- An operator’s command takes 1.2 seconds to reach the drone via a satellite link

- 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. The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions

- 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.[13] and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition)

mq-9 reaper rpv most advanced drone
Photograph by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson U.S. Air Force

us-air-force-drone-most-expensive
Photograph by U.S. Air Force


MILESTONES

- In October 2001, the U.S. Air Force signed a contract with GA to purchase an initial pair of Predator B-003s for evaluation, with follow-up orders for production machines. The first test MQ-9s were delivered to the Air Force in 2002

- 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

- In September 2007, the MQ-9 deployed into Iraq at Balad, the largest U.S. air base in Iraq. 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

- In April 2008, British special forces were forced to destroy one of the two Reapers operating in Afghanistan to prevent sensitive material falling into the hands of the Taliban after it crash landed.

- As of 2009 the U.S. Air Force’s fleet stands at 195 Predators and 28 Reapers

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hunter killer uav mq-9 reaper most powerful
Photograph by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr. U.S. Air Force


SPECIFICATIONS

• Crew: None
• Landing Type: runway
• Launch Type: runway
• Power Plant: Honeywell TP331-10 turboprop engine, 950 SHP (712 kW)
• Fuel Capacity: 4,000 lb (1800 kg)
• Wingspan: 66 ft (20 m)
• Height: 12.5 ft (3.6 m)
• Empty weight: 3,700 lb (2200 kg)
• Max takeoff weight: 10,500 lb (4760 kg)

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PERFORMANCE
• Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15 km)
• Operational altitude: 25,000 ft (7.5 km)[59]
• Endurance: 14–28 hours (14 hours fully loaded)[60]
• Range: 3,200 nmi (5,926 km, 3,682 mi)
• Payload: 3,800 lb (1,700 kg)
• Internal: 800 lb (360 kg)
• External: 3,000 lb (1,400 kg)
• Maximum speed: 260 knots (482 km/h, 300 mph)
• Cruise speed: 150–170 knots (276–313 km/h, 172–195 mph)[61]

best-most-powerful-us-drone
Photograph by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson U.S. Air Force


WEAPONS AND ARMAMENTS
• 7 Hardpoints
• Up to 1,500 lb (680 kg) on the two inboard weapons stations[64]
• Up to 750 lb (340 kg) on the two middle stations[64]
• Up to 150 lb (68 kg) on the outboard stations [64]
• Center station not used
• Up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles can be carried or four Hellfire missiles and two 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. The 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can also be carried. Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile.

- Trading off some of the missiles, the MQ-9 Reaper can carry laser guided bombs, such as the GBU-12. The availability of high performance sensors and large capacity of precision guided weapons enable the new Reaper to operate as an efficient “Hunter-Killer” platform, seeking and engaging targets at high probability of success. It is equipped with an L-3 Communications Tactical Common Datalink (TCDL)

- Tests are underway to allow for the addition of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile. Air Force believes that the Predator B will 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

drone-mq-9-reaper-missiles-and-weapons

armaments-and-missiles-for-mq-9-reaper-uav-rpv-drone

OPERATION

- One important thing to remember about the Reaper (and the Predator as well) is that it is a weapons system and not just an individual drone. Each Reaper system consists of four individual Reaper drones operated by four different flight teams The whole system costs about $54 million to build

- Each Reaper drone is operated remotely by a team of two: a pilot and a sensor operator. The pilot’s primary function is flying the plane, while the sensor operator monitors the performance of the many different sensor systems (like infrared and night-vision cameras) utilized by the Reaper

- The Reapers are deployed in groups of four. Each Reaper — which is similar in size to a small business jet — is controlled by its own two-airman team located at a ground control station

- The teams are actually able to switch control of the drone midflight. So a team at an airbase in Iraq may be responsible for takeoffs and landings from its base but then hand over control to a team in the United States

mq-9-reaper-control-center-pilots
Photograph by Master Sergeant Steve Horton U.S. Air Force


PORTABILITY

- While the Reaper takes off and lands on normal military base runways, it can be pretty easily transported, too. If a Reaper needs to be moved from a location in California, for instance, to a base in Iraq, it’s designed so that Air Force crews can take it apart, pack it up in a crate and ship it to its destination in a C-130. The crew on the receiving end simply unpacks the crate and reassembles the Reaper, which is ready for operation once it is fueled

usaf-drone-uav-rpv-mq-9-reaper

QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS

• Will the absence of a pilot lead to more risk-taking, specifically in choosing which targets to attack?
• Will foreign soldiers lose respect for a military ally that doesn’t endanger its own pilots in a war zone?
• Will use of UAVs lead to further increases in the number of assassinations being carried out against terrorist suspects?

In addition to legal and moral issues with the Reaper, there are also technical issues of some concern. Reapers aren’t equipped to locate other airplanes, which leaves them susceptible to midair collisions.

mq-9-reaper-targeting-system

most powerful drone in the world
Photograph by Lance Cheung U.S. Air Force


SOURCES
Both articles below were the source of all information in this post. If you are interested in learning more about the MQ-9 Reaper I strongly recommend both links as they contain a tremendous amount of information.

- Wikipedia: MQ-9 Reaper
How Stuff Works: How the MQ-9 Reaper Works





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