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The MQ-9 Reaper (originally the Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systemsmarker (GA-ASI) for use by the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and the Royal Air Force. The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.

The MQ-9 is a larger and more capable aircraft than the earlier MQ-1 Predator. It can use MQ-1's ground systems. The MQ-9 has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine, far more powerful than the Predator's piston engine. The increase in power allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance and cruise at three times the speed of the MQ-1.

In 2008 the New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing began the transition from F-16 piloted planes to MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight, becoming the first all-robot attack squadron.

Then U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper."

 the U.S. Air Force’s fleet stands at 195 Predators and 28 Reapers.


Design and development

With the success of the MQ-1 in combat, General Atomics anticipated the Air Force's desire for an upgraded aircraft and, using its own funds, set about redesigning Predator.

Prototype "Predator B"

General Atomics began development of the Reaper with the "Predator B-001", a proof-of-concept aircraft, which first flew on 2 February 2001. The B-001 was powered by a Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-10T turboprop engine with 950 shp (712 kW). It had a standard Predator airframe, except that the wings were stretched from 48 feet (14.6 m) to 66 feet (20 m). The B-001 had a speed of 220 kts (390 km/h) and could carry a payload of 750 pounds (340 kilograms) to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15.2 kilometers) with an endurance of 30 hours.

GA refined the design, taking it in two separate directions. The first was with a jet-powered version. The "Predator B-002" was fitted with a Williams FJ44-2A turbofan engine with 10.2 kN (2,300 lbf, 1,040 kgf) thrust. It had payload capacity of 475 pounds (215 kilograms), a ceiling of 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) and endurance of 12 hours. The U.S. Air Force ordered two airframes for evaluation, delivered in 2007.

The second was the "Predator B-003", referred to by GA as the "Altair", which has a new airframe with an 84-feet (25.6 m) wingspan and a takeoff weight of about 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms). Like the Predator B-001, it is powered by a TP-331-10T turboprop. This variant has a payload capacity of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms), a maximum ceiling of 52,000 feet (15.8 kilometers), and an endurance of 36 hours.

Air Force version



In October 2001, the U.S. Air Force signed a contract with GA to purchase an initial pair of Predator B-003s for evaluation, with follow-up orders for production machines. The first test MQ-9s were delivered to the Air Force in 2002. The name "Altair" did not follow the aircraft into testing, with the Air Force continuing to refer to the system as "Predator B" until it was renamed Reaper ("Altair" instead became the designation for the unarmed NASA version); this is confusing, however, as the manufacturer uses the term to refer to the smaller B-001 prototype.

Operators, stationed at bases such as Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegasmarker, can hunt for targets and observe terrain using a number of sensors, including a thermal camera. One estimate has the on-board camera able to read a license plate from two miles away. An operator's command takes 1.2 seconds to reach the drone via a satellite link. The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons. The inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kilograms) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (90 kilograms) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pound (450 kilogram) external fuel tanks and a thousand pounds of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours. The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions. The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder. and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition). Tests are underway to allow for the addition of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile. Air Force believes that the Predator B will give the service an improved "deadly persistence" capability, with the UAV flying over a combat area night and day waiting for a target to present itself. In this role an armed UAV neatly complements piloted strike aircraft. A piloted strike aircraft can be used to drop larger quantities of ordnance on a target while a cheaper UAV can be kept in operation almost continuously, with ground controllers working in shifts, carrying a lighter ordnance load to destroy targets.

By October, 2007 the U.S. Air Force owned nine Reapers, and was expected to decide whether to order full-rate production in 2009. On 18 May 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a certificate of authorization that allows the MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft to fly in U.S. civilian airspace to search for survivors of disasters. Requests had been made in 2005 for the aircraft to be used in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina but, because there was no FAA authorization in place at the time, the planes were not used.

In September 2007, the MQ-9 deployed into Iraq at Baladmarker, the largest U.S. air base in Iraq. On 28 October 2007 the Air Force Times reported an MQ-9 had achieved its first "kill", firing a Hellfire missile against "Afghanistan insurgents in the Deh Rawood region of the mountainous Oruzgan province. The strike was 'successful'," the United States Central Command Air Forces said.

Critics have stated that the USAF's insistence on qualified pilots flying UAVs is a bottleneck to expanding their deployment. Air Force Major General William Rew stated on 5 August 2008, "For the way we fly them right now"—fully integrated into air operations and often flying missions alongside manned aircraft—"we want pilots to fly them." This may be exacerbating losses of Air Force aircraft, in comparison with US Army operations.

The typical MQ-9 system consists of multiple aircraft, ground control station, communications equipment and links, maintenance spares, and military (or contractor) personnel. The crew consists of a pilot and sensor operator. To meet combat requirements, the MQ-9 tailors its capabilities using mission kits of various combinations of weapons and sensors payloads. The Raytheon AN/AAS-52 multi-spectral targeting sensor suite includes a color/monochrome daylight TV, infrared, and image-intensified TV with laser rangefinder/target designator to designate targets for laser guided munitions. The Synthetic Aperture Radar system enables GBU-38 JDAM targeting, is capable of very fine resolution in both spotlight and strip modes, and has ground moving target indicator capability.

Navy version

General Atomics designed a naval version of the Reaper, named the "Mariner", for the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program requirements. The design would have an increased fuel capacity in order to have an endurance of up to 49 hours. Proposed variations on the ultimate design included one designed for carrier operations with folding wings for carrier storage, shorter and more rugged landing gear, an arresting hook, cut-down or eliminated ventral flight surfaces and six stores pylons with a total load of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms). The Northrop Grumman RQ-4N was announced the BAMS winner.

The US Customs and Border Protection has ordered a "Maritime Variant" of the MQ-9.

NASA version

NASA version Altair
NASA version Ikhana
NASA had initially expressed some interest in a production version of the B-002 turbofan-powered variant, but instead has leased an unarmed version of the Reaper, which carries the GA-ASI company name "Altair". Altair is one of the first 3 "Predator-B" airframes. The other 2 airframes, known as "Predator-B 001" and "Predator-B 002", had a maximum gross weight of 7,500 pounds. Altair differs from these models in that it has an long wingspan (20 feet greater than early and current MQ-9's). The Altair has enhanced avionics systems to better enable it to fly in FAA-controlled civil airspace and demonstrate "over-the-horizon" command and control capability from a ground station. These aircraft are used by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise as part of the NASA ERAST Program to perform on-location science missions.

In November 2006, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Centermarker obtained an MQ-9 from General Atomics Aeronautical Systemsmarker Inc.. The aircraft has been named Ikhana and its main goal is the Suborbital Science Program within the Science Mission Directorate. NASA also acquired a ground control station in a mobile trailer. This aircraft was used extensively to survey the Southern California wildfires in 2007. The data was used to deploy firefighters to areas of the highest need.

Homeland Security version

UAV Operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, April 20, 2005.


The United States Department of Homeland Securitymarker initially ordered one Predator B for border patrol duty, referred to as MQ-9 CBP-101. It began operations 4 October 2005, but on 25 April 2006, this aircraft crashed in the Arizonamarker desert. The NTSB determined (Record Identification: CHI06MA121) that the cause of the crash was most likely a pilot error by the aircraft's ground-based pilot in the use of a checklist. During its operational period, the aircraft flew 959 hours on patrol and had a part in 2,309 arrests. It also contributed to the seizure of four vehicles and 8,267 pounds of marijuana. Because of these successes, a second Predator B, called "CBP-104" (initially referred to as "CBP-102"), was delivered in September 2006, and commenced limited border protection operations on 18 October 2006. The program was further expanded on 16 February 2009, including Canadian border patrols where US officials were concerned about the exploitation of the border by "drug smugglers, migrants and terrorists".

The CBP-101 was equipped with the Lynx SAR, AX-15 payload, ARC-210 radios, and other sensors and communications equipment; CBP-104 was enhanced with Ku band satellite command and control link and MTS-A EO/IR sensors.

The President’s FY 2006 Emergency Supplemental budget request added $45 million for the Predator B program, and the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill adds an additional $20 million. In October 2006, GA-ASI announced a $33.9 million contract to supply two more Predator B systems by Fall 2007.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has Six operational MQ-9s. One based in North Dakota, at the UAS Operations Center in Grand Forks, four in Arizona, at the UAS Operations Center in Sierra Vista and one based at Fort Drum, N.Y.[277080] The aircraft are equipped with GA-ASI's Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (Lynx SAR info/web page) and Raytheon's MTS-B ElectroOptical/Infrared sensors.

International versions

Australia

In September 2006, the General Atomics Mariner demonstrator aircraft was operated by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in an exercise designed to evaluate the aircraft's ability to aid in efforts to stem illegal fishing, drug running and illegal immigration. The Mariner operated from RAAF bases Edinburgh, South Australiamarker and Learmonth, Western Australiamarker in conjunction with a Royal Australian Navy Armidale class patrol boat, the Joint Offshore Protection Command and the Pilbara Regiment.

United Kingdom

On 27 September 2006, the U.S. Congress was notified by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency that the United Kingdom was seeking to purchase a pair of MQ-9 Reapers. They are operated by No. 39 Squadron RAF out of Creech Air Force Basemarker, Nevadamarker. A third MQ-9 is in the process of being purchased by the RAF.

On 9 November 2007, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that its MQ-9 Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistanmarker against the Taliban. On 4 January 2008 it became public that the United Kingdom wants to purchase a further 10 MQ-9 Reapers, giving the Royal Air Force a total fleet of 13 Reaper UAVs.

In April 2008, British special forces were forced to destroy one of the two Reapers operating in Afghanistan to prevent sensitive material falling into the hands of the Taliban after it crash landed.

Germany

Germany has made a request to purchase five Reapers and four ground control stations, plus related support material and training. The request, being made through the Foreign Military Sales process, was presented to Congress through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on 1 August 2008 and is valued at US$205 million. However, Germany did not go through with this procurement for the time being and decided to lease the IAI Heron offered by IAI and Rheinmetall instead, initially for the duration of one year, representing a stop-gap measure before a long-term decision on a MALE-system is being made.

Italy

On August 1, 2008, Italy submitted a FMS request through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency for four aircraft, four ground stations and five years of maintenance support, all valued at US$330 million.

Operational history

  • The California Office of Emergency Services requested NASA support for the Esperanza Fire, and in under 24 hours the General Atomics Altair (NASA variant of the Predator B) was launched on a 16 hour mission to map the perimeter of the fire. The Altair had just returned from a test mission a day before the Esperanza Fire started. The fire mapping research is a joint project with NASA and the US Forest Service.
  • On 25 April 2006, an MQ-9 operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection crashed near Nogales, Arizonamarker. The pilot, remotely operating the vehicle from Sierra Vista Municipal Airportmarker, reported a momentary lockup of the displays on the primary control console. The pilot switched control to a secondary console, and in doing so inadvertently shut down the vehicle's engine, causing it to descend out of reach of communications and ultimately crash.
  • On 1 May 2007, the 432d Wing of the United States Air Force was activated to operate MQ-9 Reaper as well as MQ-1 Predator UAVs at Creech Air Force Basemarker, Nevadamarker. The pilots first flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of 2007.


  • As of October 2007 the USAF is flying operational missions in Afghanistan. As of 6 March 2008, according to USAF Lieutenant General Gary North, the Reaper has attacked 16 targets in Afghanistan using 500-lb bombs and Hellfire missiles. On 4 February 2008 the Reaper dropped a bomb on a truck carrying an insurgent mortar and team near Kandaharmarker.


  • On July 17, 2008, the Air Force began flying Reaper missions within Iraq from Balad Air Basemarker.


  • It was reported on August 11, 2008 that the 174th Fighter Wing of the USAF will consist entirely of Reapers.


  • By March 2009 the Air Force had 28 operational Reapers.


  • On 13 September 2009, a MQ-9 was flying a combat mission over Afghanistan when positive control of the aircraft was lost resulting in the drone flying out of control towards the Afghan border. An F-15E was sent to destroy it. The Reaper was shot down with an AIM-9. It was the first time a US drone was destroyed intentionally by allied forces.




Controversy

On 28 October 2009, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, presented a report to the Third Committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) of the General Assembly warning that the use of the MQ-9 Reaper and similar aircraft for targeted killings will be regarded as a breach of international law unless the United Statesmarker can demonstrate appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place.

Operators

  • Turkish Air Force (Turkey initially ordered four aircraft and three command centers)


Specifications

MQ-9 Reaper taxis.


Several minor variations of the RQ-9/MQ-9 exist; these values are indicative.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS
  • Contractor: General Atomicsmarker Aeronautical Systems Incorporated
  • Crew: None
  • Landing Type: runway
  • Launch Type: runway
  • Power Plant: Honeywell TP331-10 turboprop engine, 950 SHP (712 kW)
  • Fuel Capacity: 1815 kg (4,000 lb)
  • Length: 10.9728 m (36 ft)
  • Wingspan: 20.1168 m (66 ft)
  • Height: 3.8 m (12.5 ft)
  • Empty weight: 2223 kg (4,900 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 4760 kg (10,500 lb)


PERFORMANCE
  • Service ceiling: 15 km (50,000 ft)
  • Operational altitude: 7.5 km (25,000 ft)
  • Endurance: 14–28 hours (14 hours fully loaded)
  • Range: 5,926 km (3,200 nmi, 3,682 mi)
  • Payload:
    • Internal:
    • External:
  • Maximum speed: 482 km/h (300 mph, 260 knots)
  • Cruise speed: 276–313 km/h (172–195 mph, 150–170 knots)


SENSORS
  • AN/APY-8 Lynx II radar
  • AN/DAS-1 MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System


ARMAMENT
  • 6 Hardpoints
    • on the two inboard weapons stations
    • on the two middle stations
    • on the outboard stations


  • Up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles can be carried or four Hellfire missiles and two GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. The 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can also be carried. Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile.


Popular culture

The Reaper has been used to showcase U.S. counter-intelligence and COIN operations in recent movies. The MQ-9 Reaper was featured in D. J. Caruso's action thriller Eagle Eye with two action sequences shot with the UCAV acting against hostile elements.

See also

References

  • This article contains material that originally came from the web article Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by Greg Goebel, which exists in the Public Domain.


External links




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