The first unmanned attack squadron in aviation history will arrive in Iraq today looking to deliver 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles to the enemy – all from the comfort of a US Air Force base in Nevada.
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper can be controlled via satellite link thousands of miles away from operational areas. The planes are launched locally, in this case Iraq and Afghanistan, but can be controlled by a pilot and sensor operator sitting at computer consoles in a ground station, or they can be “handed off” via satellite signals to pilots and sensor operators in Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base or elsewhere.
The MQ-9 Reaper is the Air Force’s first hunter-killer unmanned aircraft. It is the big brother to the highly successful and sometimes controversial Predator aircraft, which General Atomics said this week had flown over 300,000 flight hours, with over 80% of that time spent in combat.
The company said Predator series aircraft have flown an average of 8,200 hours per month over the past six months while maintaining the highest operational readiness rates in the U.S. military aircraft inventory. The MQ-9 Reaper is twice as fast as the Predator – it has a 900-horsepower turbo-prop engine, compared to the 119-horsepower Predator engine – and can carry far more ordnance – 14 Hellfire missiles as opposed to two.