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.
2015 - There were 104 examples of the MQ-9 Reaper in operational service with the United States Air Force.
February 2011 - 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.
October 2011 - 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).
November 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.
2014 - Total Repear production has reached 163 units.
February 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.
February 2018 - The MQ-9B variant continues its testing phase.
June 2018 - It was announced that the MQ-9B Sky guardian UAV will be scheduled to make an appearance at the Royal International Air Tatoo in England. The air vehicle will attempt to fly from Grand Forks, North Dakota to RAF Fairford, crossing the Atlantic in the process. The British Royal Air Force has signed on to procure the product and will receive its first example some time in 2023.
November 2018 - The USAF has granted General Atomics a $263 million contract to serially produce its new round of MQ-9 Reapers.
November 2018 - Taliban elements have released video of a crashed Repear UAV.
November 2018 - Australia has selected the MQ-9 Repear to fulfill its Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) requirement (AIR7003).
July 2019 - The UK has announced its intention to retire its fleet of Reaper UAVs in 2024 in favor of the newer MQ-9B "Protector" series.
September 2019 - General Atomics has revealed a new multi-mission control system to reduce crew training times by nearly half.
June 2020 - The USAF is actively seeking to replace its aging fleet of MQ-9 UAVs through the once-abandoned, now revitalized, "MQ-X" program. The service has selected 2030 as its target date and seeks a medium-altitude performer with an inherent strike capability.
June 2020 - General Atomics has announced itself as an active contender in the USAF's "MQ-X", or "MQ-NEXT", program seeking a successor its storied - yet aging - line of Predator-related UAVs.
September 2020 - General Atomics has successfully flown an MQ-9 Reaper with an onboard AI-driven system (Agile Condor via integrated mission pod) for autonomous Search-and-Track (SaT) functionality - showcasing potential targets to the ground operator.
September 2020 - General Atomics continues testing the "Sparrowhawk" air-launched/air-recoverable UAV ISR/EW mission pod.
September 2020 - The USAF has been actively testing the feasibility of the MQ-9A with a broadened "Hellfire" Anti-Tank Guided-Missile (ATGM) missile-carrying ability allowing its warload to effectively double while retaining its inherent over-battlefield capabilities.
October 2020 - Reports indicate a U.S. intent to sell MQ-9 UAVs to the island nation of Taiwan.
January 2021 - The USAF has reassigned 90 personnel as well as associated MQ-9 Predator UAVs to Romania to continue supporting NATO operations in and around the region, particularly over the Balkans and in the Black Sea theater.
January 2021 - General Atomics has demonstrated a submersible target capability, broadening the product's Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability in the maritime role. The test involved some ten dropped sonobuoys following a target for three hours.
Australia; Dominican Republic; France; Italy; Netherlands; Spain; United Kingdom; United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Special-Mission: Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy underwater elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and weapons.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.
36.1 ft (11.00 m)
65.9 ft (20.10 m)
12.5 ft (3.81 m)
3,704 lb (1,680 kg)
10,494 lb (4,760 kg)
+6,790 lb (+3,080 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) production variant)
1 x Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine developing 900 horsepower and driving a three-bladed propeller unit in pusher configuration.
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).
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 6
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 "SkyGuardian" - 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.
"SeaGuardian" - Maritime Patrol variant offered by GA-ASI.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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