The MQ-9 Reaper, a derivative of the successful MQ-1 Predator UAV, is one of the largest and most dangerous drones in the U.S. Arsenal.
First flown in 2001, the U.S. intends to keep it in the air until 2035, and with good reason. This state-of-the-art Drone has been dubbed the first hunter-killer UAV for its excellent flight, endurance, range, sensors, and pinpoint accuracy when it Comes to attacking the enemy.
The Reaper is so effective that only one of them was dispatched during the early hours of January 3rd, 2020, to take out the commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, near Baghdad International Airport.
To this day, no other UAV has been able to eclipse the Reaper’s extraordinary force, and there are plans to continue enhancing it.
General atomic’s Predator B.
General atomic’s The Predator unmanned aerial vehicle was developed to aid the United States government in its counterinsurgency and reconnaissance efforts against terrorist groups.
General atomic’s lead designer Abraham Karem presented the first test bed in February 2001. it was dubbed Predator b-001 and was intended to replace the MQ-1 Predator. which had flown for the First time in 1994.
B-001 The prototype used an enlarged Predator airframe with a large fuselage and wings extending from 48 to 66 feet. AnTPE331 Turboprop Engine powered it. That produces 950 shaft horsepower.
During testing, the Predator b001 achieved speeds of over 250 miles per hour while carrying a payload of 750 pounds. It could quickly reach an altitude of 50 000 feet and endure almost 30 hours.
General Dynamics then returned to the whiteboards and refined The Design coming up with two different derivatives of the predator b001. these were designated b002 and b003.
The maximum weight for which the Predator b002 could be used was 475 kg. The engine is a Williams fj-44a2 turbofan, which produces 2300 pounds of thrust and allows the plane to fly to an altitude of 60,000 feet before it needs maintenance.
Furthermore, it had a range of almost 12 hours while flying nonstop.
On the other hand, Predator b-003, also known as Altera, was able to carry 3,000 pounds, fly at 52,000 feet, and stay in the air for 36 hours thanks to its bigger airframe and 84-foot wingspan.
Although the Altair variant was an alluring Temptation for the USAF, the service only ordered a pair of prototypes for the b001 and the b002. Both were designated YMQ-9 to distinguish them from the original Predator.
The M stands for multi-role, the Q for remotely piloted aircraft system, and the 9 indicates that it’s the ninth in the series of UAVs operated by the Armed Forces.
After flying in 2002, the capabilities of both prototypes were forged into one UAV aircraft, the MQ-9 Reaper.
MQ-9 Reaper features.
The Reaper is part of a remotely piloted aircraft system that comprises the UAV with a sensor or weapon configuration, a ground control station, a predator primary satellite link, and spare equipment for maintenance during extended operations.
a Reaper’s crew consists of a rated pilot controlling and leading the mission and a second crewman operating the sensors and guiding weapons.
In addition, it can be disassembled and loaded into a single container for easy deployment and can be transported by a C-130 Hercules or several other aircraft. It can also be launched from standard U.S. airfields.
The Drone has a length of 36 feet, a wingspan of 66 feet, a height of 12.5 feet, and an empty weight of 4 900 pounds. Its maximum takeoff weight is 10 500 pounds, including a payload of 3750 Pounds.
A Honeywell TPE 331 10gd turboprop engine providing 900 shaft horsepower allows the Reaper to reach speeds of up to 276 miles per hour and a service ceiling of up to 50 000 feet.
Its standard range is 1150 miles but can be increased by adding external fuel tanks allowing it to carry 1300 pounds of fuel.
The MQ-9 Reaper’s primary purpose since It was introduced in 2002 was to use it as an intelligence collection asset and then to deal with hostile targets.
And according to the U.S. Air Force, the multi-purpose functions of the Reaper allow it to conduct ” intelligent surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search, and rescue Precision strike, buddy lays, Convoy and raid OverWatch, route clearance, Target development, and terminal air guidance.
Its multi-mode communication Suite, wide-range sensors, loiter time, and persistent weapons capability make the Reaper the most effective American UAV when it comes to conducting irregular warfare operations.
The basic configuration of the MQ-9 Reaper includes the MTSB or multi-spectral targeting system, which has a wide array of visual sensors for Targeting .or a monochrome daylight T.V. Camera laser designator infrared sensor and Laser illuminator. Each of the video Imaging sensors is displayed differently for adequate coordination.
The Laser Rangefinder is used for laser-guided Munitions like the guided bomb unit 12 Paveway 2. The UAV can carry up to eight laser-guided missiles and air-to-ground Hellfire missiles.
Other armaments include the gbu-38 joint direct attack Munitions and the gbu-54 laser joint direct attack munitions. a USAF press statement from 2006 described the MQ-9 Reaper as the quote First hunter-killer designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision and destroy or disable those Targets this 500-pound bombs and hellfire missiles.
Given its success as a multi-role UAV, the Reaper has numerous variants. The sea Guardian, dubbed the Mariner, is the reaper variant of the U.S. Navy and is part of the broad area Maritime surveillance program .its main feature is its increased fuel capacity resulting in a flight endurance of up to 49 hours.
As with any other Navy asset, the Mariner features folding wings for more Accessible storage, reinforced landing gears, and an arresting hook.
General atomics also improves the variant by fitting it with the Leonardo sea spray 7500e V2 AESA radar mounted as a Centerline pod that can more effectively identify all sorts of Maritime vessels. It is known as the sea Guardian.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection also employs the Mariner for border patrol operations, and it is known simply As the Guardian .then there’s the sky Guardian a variant tailored for operation within civilian airspace for use in the U.S., European countries, and other NATO partners.
The United Kingdom also announced its plans to operate a variant of the Reaper by early 2023. it has been named the protector and can carry 18 Brimstone 2 missiles and Paveway 4 bombs.
The block five variant also has increased electrical power, a secure Communications Network, a backup generator weapons growth, and improved data transmission capacity.
The Drone Wars
The MQ-9 Reapers made their combat debut in May of 2007 when they were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan; while there, they proved their combat capabilities after successfully eradicating hostile forces in the Ruskin province With Hellfire missiles.
By mid-2009, the Reaper’s Fleet had been increased to 30 drones constantly patrolling the skies in the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian Ocean for anti-piracy operations.
Then in 2012, several Reapers were deployed to Benghazi, Libya, after the U.S. ambassador lost his life. In addition, several Reapers were the eyes in the sky for the French forces during operations serval to eliminate All Islamic extremists in Mali.
That year the USAF announced that the Predator and the Reaper had surpassed over 2 million flight hours. The USAF had to increase its pilot output from around 180 to 300 because of the high demand.
For all that, one of its most notable achievements was when one CIA Reaper eliminated Goods Force Commander General Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, near Baghdad International Airport on January 3rd, 2020.
The attack also claimed the lives of two dozen members of Soleimani‘s escort, and it was widely compared to operation Vengeance from World War II.
In 2021 the USAF announced that it planned to extend the service life of the MQ-9 Reaper until 2035.
During the press conference, Air Force officials mentioned that existing Reapers would receive retrofit enhancements that included quote additional anti-jamming properties, a boost in available electrical power, and an open architecture design of the platform to encourage the integration of new capabilities.
Called the multi-domain operation or M2DO configuration, the model also features improvements to the electro Optical and infrared sensors and more space to carry more Ordnance.
This upgrade emphasizes Jam resistance and other classified capabilities the USAF is yet to announce. For the time being, the Air Force and general atomic’s Aeronautical Systems are confident that upgrading the entire Reaper fleet with the M2DO it will bring new life to the Drone for many years to come.