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MQ-9 Reaper UAV
The MQ-9 Reaper is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), the U.S. Navy, and CIA. Capable of both operation by remote control and autonomous flight, the Reaper is a multi-mission UAV used as a "hunter-killer" and in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Based on the MQ-1 Predator and initially referred to as the Predator B, the Reaper is a larger, more powerful platform that can carry 3,000 pounds of Hellfire air-to-ground (AGM) missiles, laser-guided bombs, and satellite-directed munitions. The Reaper is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance. It functions as a Joint Forces Air Component Commander-owned theater asset for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) in support of the Joint Forces Commander. The Reaper first saw action in the summer of 2007 in Iraq and Afghanistan in a counter-insurgent role.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): MQ-9 Reaper Development
General Atomics initially developed the prototype for the MQ-9 Reaper based on the operational success of the MQ-1 Predator in combat. Air Force interest in remote-piloted vehicles for surveillance and combat as well as the evolving doctrine of netcentric warfare made developing a combat-capable UAV from the Predator concept a strategic choice.
The new UAV was designated the "Predator B-001" and served as a proof of concept, first flying on 2 February 2001. General Atomics used a Garret AiResearch TPE-331-10 turboprop engine delivering 950 shaft horsepower in an airframe based on the standard Predator frame, but with a longer, wider fuselage and increased wingspan.
The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 resulted in Congress directing the Air Force to order to pre-production YMQ-9s, as the Reaper was then designated. The YMQ-9 made its first flight on 17 October 2003 from a General Atomics facility in California.
General Atomics refined the design, experimenting with a jet-powered vehicle using the same basic airframe under the designation "Predator B-002" as well as with a turboprop vehicle using a new airframe under the designation "Predator B-003," known within General Atomics as the "Altair." Both prototypes performed well, and in October 2001, the Air Force agreed to buy two Predator B-003s for testing, and more for production UAVs.
The U.S. Navy took an interest in the naval version of the Reaper designed by General Atomics. Known as the "Mariner," this UAV is set to meet the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program requirements. Design modifications including increased fuel capacity and folding wings for aircraft carrier storage were made. However, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4N ultimately fulfilled the BAMS requirement.
The Air Force began testing the Predator B-003s in October 2001. The prototype was initially called the Predator B because of its ancestry. On 14 September 2006 the Air Force chief of staff announced that the name "Reaper" would be given to the MQ-9, where "M" refers to multi-role, "Q" to a UAV, and the number to its place in the list of existing UAVs. The Air Force also refers to the MQ-9 as a Remotely Piloted Vehicle/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) to acknowledge the presence of human pilots.
The Reaper is designed with six stores pylons. The inner pylons can hold up to 1,500 pounds and can carry external fuel tanks to extend operating range and loiter time. The mid-wing pylons can hold 600 pounds, and the outer pylons, 200 pounds. Weapons may include the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missile, the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, and the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). A fully loaded Reaper has a flight time of approximately 14 hours. With lighter loads and external fuel tanks, the time can be increased to as much as 42 hours.
The standard Reaper carries the Raytheon AN/AAS-52(V) Multi-spectral Targeting System (MTS-B), EO/IR sensor turret/laser designator, a full suite of sensors for target acquisition including an infrared sensor, a color/monochrome daylight video camera, and image-enhanced video camera. Also included is a laser rangefinder/designator for precision targeting of laser-guided munitions. The Reaper has a General Atomics AN/APY-8 Lynx synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for use with the Joint Direct Attack Munition.
The Reaper is operated from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada via satellite link. It is also operated more locally, with operators stationed in Iraq or elsewhere as appropriate. A Reaper system is composed of the UAVs, a ground control station (GCS), a Predator Primary Satellite Link (PPSL), and equipment for maintenance. A pilot and sensor operator control the UAV remotely, though the Reaper can also operate autonomously.
NASA showed interest in the B-002 prototype, but decided to lease an unarmed version under the designation "Altair." The Altair has a larger wingspan and improved avionics for flight in FAA-controlled airspace in the U.S. NASA uses the Altair as part of its Earth Science Enterprise to undertake on-site science missions. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center acquired a MQ-9 for its Suborbital Science Program. This UAV, named Ikhana, operates with a ground control station in a mobile trailer, and participated in monitoring wildfires in southern California in 2007.
MQ-9 Reaper Operational History
The Air Force shipped two prototype Reapers under the designation YMQ-9 to Afghanistan in 2005 due to the urgent need for UAVs there. The first production model MQ-9 Reaper made its appearance on 25 September 2007 at Balad Air Base, Iraq, as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Air Force started operational Reaper missions there on 17 July 2008. It recorded its first kill on 28 October 2007 when firing a Hellfire missile against insurgents in the De Rawood region of Afghanistan. By March 2008 the Reaper had attacked 16 targets in Afghanistan.
When positive control of a Reaper was lost on 13 September 2009, a F-15E Strike Eagle was tasked with destroying it.
Reapers have also been used by the Africa Command in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean for anti-piracy patrols.
The MQ-9 Reaper is operated by the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 42nd Attack Squadron, both at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, and by the 29th Attack Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security acquired one Reaper for border patrol duty. This Reaper started operation on 4 October 2005 but crashed in the Arizona desert on 25 April 2006. The Reaper clocked 959 hours on patrol and contributed to 2,309 arrests during its lifetime. Based on this success, the Department of Homeland Security acquired another Reaper in September 2006, which began a limited mission profile on 18 October 2006. More Reapers have since been added, including some assigned to patrolling the Canadian border.
Characteristics of the MQ-9 Reaper
Recommended Books about the MQ-9 Reaper and UAVs
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