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RQ-5 Hunter UAV

The RQ-5 Hunter is an unmanned aerial vehicle used as a short-range tactical system by the U.S Army. The Hunter is used by Army commanders as a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) drone, providing reconnaissance. It was deployed to Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force in the Balkans in 1999. Hunter UAVs operate from land, with an onboard gimbaled EO/IR sensor package providing imagery for day or nighttime operations.

US Army personnel walkout and position the Hunter UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for takeoff at Petrovec Airfield, Skopje, Macedonia, in support of TASK FORCE HARVEST, 13 September 2001. The Hunter UAV played a key role in helping NATO troops by surveying and looking for any changes in the local area that might hinder the peacekeeping mission
US Army personnel walkout and position the Hunter UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for takeoff at Petrovec Airfield, Skopje, Macedonia, in support of TASK FORCE HARVEST, 13 September 2001. The Hunter UAV played a key role in helping NATO troops by surveying and looking for any changes in the local area that might hinder the peacekeeping mission.

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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): RQ-5 Hunter Development

Originally known as the Joint Improved Multi-mission Payload Aerial Surveillance, Combat Survivable (JIMPACS), the RQ-5 Hunter was based on the Impact UAV developed by Israeli Aircraft Industries. In 1989, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps started a joint unmanned aerial vehicle program. Two designs were chosen as finalists to fulfill military requirements: the IAI Hunter, built in cooperation with TRW, and the McDonnell Douglas Sky Owl.

After evaluations in 1991 and 1992, the Hunter was selected. TRW received its first production contact in February 1993 for seven complete Hunter systems, with an average of eight aircraft per system. The RQ-5 Hunter was officially designated as the BQM-155A at this time.

The first production Hunter flew in February 1994, but operational evaluation went poorly. Several Hunters were lost in crashes, and procurement was halted in January 1996. However, seven low-rate initial production (LRIP) systems with eight aircraft each were acquired by the Army. Of these, four went into service, with one used for training and the remaining three for doctrine development and contingency support. The rest went into storage.

In 1999 Hunters were taken out of storage for use as reconnaissance drones in Eastern Europe. It was at this time the Hunter gained its RQ-5 designation. The "Q" designation was instituted by the Department of Defense in January 1997 to refer to UAVs, with the "R" standing for "reconnaissance."

The Hunter UAV is a land-based asset, using retractable tricycle landing gear. The aircraft can be launched from a runway or using a rocket assisted system, and can land on paved or grass runways, or a highway. The aircraft has an arresting gear for short landing.

Onboard sensors consist of a gimbaled electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload. Video is relayed through a second airborne Hunter using a C-band line-of-sight (LOS) data link. The GCS-3000 ground control system oversees operation of the aircraft, staffed by two operators who monitor the UAV and its payload. One GCS can control one aircraft or two aircraft in relay. The GCS consists of a pilot control bay where the flight of the UAV is controlled, a navigation control bay where the progress of the UAV and its mission is monitored, and an intelligence bay where data is processed and analyzed.

The Army has experimented with controlling the Hunter airframe and sensors from an Apache helicopter in flight in order to extend the reach and range of its helicopters. The Army also evaluated weaponization of the Hunter, testing Brilliant Anti-Armor submunition (BAT) on 11 October 2002 at White Sands Missile Range.

This weaponized version of the Hunter is designated the MQ-5, with "A" and "B" variants. It is armed with the GBU-44/B Viper Strike weapons system. This Hunter was the first weaponized UAV for the Army.

Although the RQ-7 Shadow is replacing the Hunter, as of 2010 the Hunter remains in service in the Army as well as with the Philippine Air Force and Belgian Air Force. The major variants of the Hunter UAV are as follows:

Model RQ-5A

The first Hunter UAV, the RQ-5A is a reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft. Its primary payload is the multi-mission optronic payload (MOSP) developed by IAI. This payload provides television and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imagery. Other payloads include a laser designator and communications systems. The RQ-5A has also been tested with the SAR/MTI (synthetic aperture radar/moving target indicator) payload.

Model MQ-5B

This second-generation Hunter has a longer center wing and more powerful engines, which increases the service ceiling and range of the UAV. Other improvements include upgraded mission computers, a new LN-251 global positioning system/inertial navigation system (GPS/INS), and an APX-118 IFF transponder. The longer wing has two hardpoints for carrying weapons, for an external payload of up to 130 lbs. on each side.

RQ-5 Hunter Operational History

The RQ-5A Hunter was the first UAV fielded by the Army when it saw active service in Kosovo in 1999 in support of Operation Allied Force. It was operated as a division and corps level asset, providing reconnaissance to Army commanders. In the first three months there, the Hunter flew more than 600 hours of missions in each 30-day period. Hunters operated in teams of two, providing imagery and real-time data.

Hunter UAVs were deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, starting in March 2003. The Hunter has engaged in reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition.

The Air and Marine Office in the Customs and Border Protection Bureau of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ran a trial program in 2004 with the Hunter to patrol the U.S. border. The Hunter flew 329 hours and made 556 detections during its test period.

The MQ-5B variant of the Hunter, with improved avionics and redundant navigation systems, first saw action in 2005, operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to its onboard weapons, it also uses signals intelligence (SIGINT) packages in its reconnaissance role.

Characteristics of the RQ-5A Hunter

PayloadEO/IR sensor package
EnginesTwo 64 hp Moto Guzzi twin cylinder, four-stroke
Speed106 knots
Range144 nautical miles (12 hours flight time)
Ceiling15,000 ft.
Span29 ft. 2.4 in.
Length22 ft. 9.6 in.
Height5 ft. 5 in.
Weight1,600 lbs.

Characteristics of the MQ-5B Hunter

PayloadEO/IR sensor package; GBU-44/B Viper Strike weapons system
EnginesTwo Mercedes Smart Diesel 800cc Turbo 3-cylinde
Speed106 knots
Range144 nautical miles (15 hours flight time)
Ceiling20,000 ft.
Span34 ft. 3 in.
Length23 ft.
Height5 ft. 5 in.
Weight1,800 lbs.

US Soldiers push a Hunter RQ-5A Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, down a runway for take off, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 12 June 2006
US Soldiers push a Hunter RQ-5A Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, down a runway for take off, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 12 June 2006.

US Soldiers use a HMMWV to tow a Hunter RQ-5A Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, down a runway for take off, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 12 June 2006
US Soldiers use a HMMWV to tow a Hunter RQ-5A Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, down a runway for take off, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 12 June 2006.

Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in flight during a Combat Search and Rescue training exercise at Fallon NAS, NV, during exercise DESERT RESCUE XI, 13 August 2003
Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in flight during a Combat Search and Rescue training exercise at Fallon NAS, NV, during exercise DESERT RESCUE XI, 13 August 2003.

Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in flight during a Combat Search and Rescue training exercise at Fallon NAS, NV, during exercise DESERT RESCUE XI, 13 August 2003
Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in flight during a Combat Search and Rescue training exercise at Fallon NAS, NV, during exercise DESERT RESCUE XI, 13 August 2003.

Recommended Books about the RQ-5 Hunter and UAVs

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