first published on February 26, 2018 by Josh
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, sometimes known as Predator B, is a remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicle that is capable of autonomous flight operations. It is one of the aircraft that is referred to in the United States Air Force as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) to indicate that it has human ground controllers. It is the first UAV ever designed with a Hunter-Killer mission set that has an extremely long endurance for high-altitude surveillance.
Overall, the MQ-9 outclasses its older brother the MQ-1 in almost every way. It has a 950 shaft-horsepower turboprop engine, compared to the MQ-1’s 115 horsepower, and can carry up to 15 times more ordinance than the MQ-1. This extra horsepower also allows the aircraft to cruise at about three times the speed of the MQ-1, which gives it more range and maneuverability. Due to its greater abilities in the air, the United States Navy, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Customs and Border Protection service, NASA, and several other nations also employ the MQ-9. The United States Air Force intends to utilize the platform until the 2030s at the very least.
Operation Inherent Resolve is now shifting the focus of the MQ-9 Reaper drone platform to make it more versatile and lethal. The objective is to give the platform more flexibility during missions, allowing it to act in a number of different roles that support ground operations. This new approach taken by senior leaders in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) aims to have singular MQ-9 conduct several missions at once, to include executing deliberate strikes, armed over watch or close air support missions, and then flex to an ISR tasking – all in a single mission. Using these new tactics, they are allowing troops on the ground acting in advise and assist roles much more flexibility with their air support options, as the MQ-9 will be able to stay on station to work over a much longer period of time when compared to a traditional pilot. Also, these new methods of use will give commanders the ability to better quarterback flight operations with manned combat missions with platforms like the F-16s, B-52s, and A-10.
The video below is the first release from the Department of Defense showing the MQ-9 making this historic change in its mission-set. It shows footage from the nose-camera of an MQ-9 reaper as it makes a series of coordinated strikes against a high-profile Taliban narcotics facility in Helmand province. This is also the latest footage to be unclassified from the on-going operations in Afghanistan that are being conducted by Operation Inherent Resolve. It is unclear at this time how much this new tasking for the MQ-9 will impact the battlespace in Afghanistan, but I do strongly believe that this multi-role capability will bring a new level of lethality to the small units operating on the ground with Afghan forces.