The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. 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, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy/raid overwatch, 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 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, image-intensified TV camera, laser range finder /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 range finder/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 to enable future GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions targeting. The MQ-9 can also employ four laser-guided , Air-to-Ground Missile (AGM)-114 Hellfire missiles, which provide highly accurate, low-collateral damage, anti-armor and anti-personnel engagement capabilities.
In its secondary role as an ISR asset, the MQ-9 is part of a system that support strike aircraft and ground commanders by acquiring and tracking dynamic targets or other useful intelligence. It is also capable of supporting a wide ranger of operations such as coastal and border surveillance, weapons tracking, embargo enforcement, humanitarian/disaster assistance, support of peacekeeping and counter-narcotic operations. Utilizing satellite communication links, the RPA can acquire and pass real-time imagery data to ground users around the clock, and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS).
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 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, consolidate control of the different flights in one location, and as such, simplify 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: find, fix, and finish targets
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)
Fuel capacity: 4,000 pounds (602 gallons)
Payload: 3,750 pounds (1,701 kilograms)
Speed: cruise speed around 230 mph (200 knots)
Range: 1,150 miles (1,000 nautical miles)
Ceiling: Up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Armament: combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions
Crew (remote): two (pilot and sensor operator)
Unit cost: $64.2 million (includes four aircraft, sensors, GCSs, and Comm.) (fiscal 2006 dollars)
Initial operating capability: October 2007
Inventory: total force, 93
(Current as of September 2015)