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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) - United States, 2007

Detailing the development and operational history of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) All-Weather Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV).

 Entry last updated on 11/22/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B)  
Picture of General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B)

The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper maintains a role of hunter-killer for the United States Air Force.

The MQ-9 "Reaper" ("M" = multirole; "Q" = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle; "9" = series designation) offers the United States Air Force a high-level, remotely-piloted weapons platform capable of instant action and precise engagement. Appearing outwardly similar to the earlier Predator series of UAV's, the Reaper is in fact a dimensionally larger offshoot featuring more power and a broadened munitions-delivery capability. The MQ-1 "Predator" (Predator A) is also a "first generation" Predator UAV, beginning life as an unarmed reconnaissance platform under the RQ-1 designation and only being armed later in its tenure (as the MQ-1). The MQ-9 "Reaper" (Predator B) became the next logical evolution in the series, from the outset conceived of as an armed reconnaissance platform with better performance capabilities within a larger airframe. The MQ-9 Reaper was introduced for service in 2007 and was set to play a major role in the United States effort on the "War on Terror" concerning Afghanistan and Iraq.

One of the more defining physical characteristics of the MQ-9 versus the MQ-1 is the outward-cranked upturned tail fins - these are downturned on the MQ-1.

The MQ-9 system is fully-portable and can break down in sections for airlifting in a Lockheed C-130 transport or similar aircraft. The basic design of the pilot-less aircraft allows for take-off and landings to occur on nearly any runaway surface.

The Reaper is capable of carrying and delivering munitions from two external hardpoints in the form of anti-tank "Hellfire" Anti-Tank (AT) missiles and GBU-12 / GBU-38 series of JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) precision-guided bombs. The platform is categorized as a "hunter/killer", equally adept at operating in the stratosphere as a real-time reconnaissance drone and also being able to engage targets when needed. Imaging is accomplished through intensified TV, daylight TV and IR (InfraRed) sensor cameras along with an integrated laser rangefinder that doubles as a laser designator for the direct-guided JDAM munitions.

Operation of an MQ-9 Reaper is accomplished through a series of on-the-ground support vehicles and equipment stations (Ground Control Stations - GCSs). A specially-trained airman flies the Reaper via joystick control, observing the aircraft's activity through a color nose-mounted camera and other in-flight reporting systems. At the very core of any UAV program is this ability to keep allied airmen risk-free from any hostile action over contested territories.

There are plans to succeed the MQ-9 series with the larger, jet-powered, stealth-minded "Avenger" (Predator C) model.

In 2015 there were 104 examples of the MQ-9 Reaper in operational service the United States Air Force.

On February 2, 2011, the U.S. DoD announced a procurement contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of Poway, California for an additional 24 MQ-9 Reaper systems at a price tag of $148,255,502 USD.

Picture of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B)
Picture of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B)

On October 17th, 2011, the US DoD announced a procurement contract with General Atomics for the delivery of two RQ-9 Reaper UAV systems, three LYNX Block 30 radars and a spare engine to the Italian Air Force to cost $15,053,962 (Contact FA8620-10-G-3038 0006).

In November of 2013 the Netherlands announced plans to field Reapers by 2017. Four are expected to make up the force. The Dutch join France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States and notable operators of the Reaper line.

By the end of 2014, some 163 Reapers had been built.

In February of 2015 it was announced that General Atomics had been awarded a $279,144,933 value contract for work on twenty-four MQ-9 Block 5 Reapers as well as associated spares and support equipment. The work is scheduled to be performed at Poway, California and be completed by September 30th, 2017.

December 2015 - The British plan to purchase twenty new MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to fulfill a portion of their "Protector" program. This stock will also succeed the existing inventory of ten MQ-9 drones.

February 2016 - A Reaper crashed at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

July 2016 - A Reaper was lost in action over Syria as part of the U.S. commitment to the Syrian Civil War (2011-Present).

September 2017 - It was announced that the French will begin arming their fleet of Reaper UAVs - which up to this point were used solely in the Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) role. This will mark France as the third nation, behind the United States and the United Kingdom, to feature armed Reaper aircraft.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) Specifications

Service Year: 2007
Status: Active, In-Service
Type: All-Weather Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV)
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Incorporated - USA
Total Production: 200

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 0
Overall Length: 36.09 feet (11 meters)
Overall Width: 65.94 feet (20.10 meters)
Overall Height: 12.50 feet (3.81 meters)

Weight (Empty): 3,695 lb (1,676 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 10,494 lb (4,760 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine developing 900 horsepower and driving a three-bladed propeller unit in pusher configuraiton.

Maximum Speed: 200 knots (230 mph; 370 kph)
Maximum Range: 1,632 nautical miles (1,878 miles; 3,022 km)
Service Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters; 9.47 miles)

Armament / Mission Payload

Mission-specific ordnance can include any combination of the following across four double-hardpoints:

AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, GBU-12 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Australia; Dominican Republic; France; Italy; Netherlands; Spain; United Kingdom; United States

Model Variants

RQ-1 "Predator" - Unarmed Reconnaissance Drone on which the MQ-1 is based on.
MQ-1 "Predator" - Armed Reconnaissance Drone of the RQ-1 model.
MQ-9 "Reaper" - Base Series Designation; derived from the RQ-1 Predator model though the Reaper is larger and features more powerful performance and payload capabilities.
MQ-9 "Guardian" - Maritime Patrol Variant used by United States Customs and Border Protection Agency; at least two examples in use; fitted with special maritime search radar and electro-optical equipment.
MQ-9B - Certified for European airspace flight regulations (NATO STANAG 4671); features sense-and-avoid capability, lighting strike protection, 40-hour endurance and 79-foot wingspan mainplanes with winglet tips.

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