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Deadly Capabilities of MQ-9A Reaper Drone

MQ 9A Reaper Drone
Date: Image Shows: A Royal Air Force Reaper RPAS (Remotely Piloted Air System) at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. 904 Expeditionary Air Wing (904 EAW) is responsible for the support and operation of RAF assets at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. As well as delivering hundreds of RAF air mobility movements every year with Hercules C-130J and BAE 146 aircraft, the EAW mounts attack and intelligence missions through its detachments of RAF Tornado GR4 fast jets. The EAW also provides support for a detachment providing launch and recovery of RAF and Reaper remotely piloted air systems. The Reaper Detachment operates the RAF’s highly capable remotely piloted air systems to supplement other air intelligence platforms with detailed imagery of ground conditions. Reaper’s primary role is to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and this forms the vast majority of its missions. However, when necessary the aircraft can also deploy precision-guided weapons to support Afghan-led ground forces in contact with the enemy. All Reaper missions are controlled by experienced RAF pilots, whose immediate face-to-face support from intelligence personnel and other operational specialists makes them among the most situationally aware pilots in the world. The Detachment is also supported by aerospace battle managers and other operational specialists based with 83 Expeditionary Air Group. UK Forces are deployed to Afghanistan and the Broader Middle East in support of the UN-authorised, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, and as a part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Please contact Media Operations on, for further information. MoD consent form (2012DIN05-006 Annex A) held by Media Ops, 83 EAG. AHB Cat: A

Did I mention that I am interested in reading and writing about drones around the world including their manufaturers, specifications and capabilities. Bear with me on this journey as I stumble around the internet and gather the significant information and news and bring it to your device. On this journey, today I am writing about MQ-9A Reaper drone. If you want to know basics about the drone and its various capabilities then please keep reading.

What is MQ-9A Reaper Drone?

MQ-9A Reaper Drone is a remotely piloted aircraft which is a medium-altitude and long endurance (MALE) uav. It is operated by three air force crew members from a ground control station. The word 9 shows that it is the 9th system to be produced in US Air Force’s series of UAVs.

What is the MQ 9 Reaper used for?

The General Atomics MQ 9 unmanned aerial vehicle is designed for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), and attack missions. It is

Who makes MQ 9A?

It is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

Where is MQ-9A based in UK?

The MD9A is based in RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire which is one of the RAF’s busiest Stations as the hub of UK Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR).

Who is flying MQ 9A Reaper in UK?

It is flown with two squadrons:

13 Squadron:

It is the first UK based Reaper squadron which provides real-time surveillance and reconnaissance to support troops in the front line. This squadron is based at RAF Waddington.

39 Squadron:

This squadron is based at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada with headquarters at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. They provide close-air-support and real time surveillance to front-line troops.

How much does a Reaper Cost?

According to the drone’s factsheet, this particular Reaper costs $64.2 million per unit and includes four aircrafts.
Well that was the basic stuff, now let’s get down to discussing its specifications as mentioned on RAF.

MQ 9A Reaper Drone Specifications

Powerplantone 900shp Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop
Length36ft (10.97m)
Height12ft (3.66m)
Wingspan 69ft 3½in (21.12m)
Maximum take-off weight
10,500lb (4,760kg)
Maximum speed250kt (463km/h)
Endurance (clean)20 hours
Endurance (with weapons)
more than 12 hours
Service ceiling (clean)more than 50,000ft
Service ceiling (with weapons)more than 30,000ft
Armamenttwo 500lb GBU-12 laser-guided bombs and four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles

What are deadly capabilities of MQ 9A Drone?

Reaper crew comprises of a pilot, mission intelligence co-ordinator and a sensor operator, altogether they fly Reaper from a remote Ground Control Station (GCS). There are two teams responsible for its ground operations one is theatre launch team and other is recovery team. Whereas, the operational crew is responsible for controlling the aircraft, its sensors and weapons systems. This particular team uses an advanced and secure satellite communication systems which provides data link capability from stations in the UK and US.

There are two cameras located in the reaper’s forward fuselage which provide a forward view for the crew on landing and take-off. Moreover, reaper has a full sensor suite which is turret mounted beneath forward fuselage with targeting, daylight TV and infrared capabilities. Last but not least, an internal General Atomics Lynx SAR (synthetic aperture radar) is also a part of its sensor suits.
According to US Air Force, this reaper is “armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance” remotely piloted aircraft which is designed primarily for offensive strikes. As of Sep 2015, the US Air Force had 93 Reaper drones in its arsenal. As compared to its predecessor (MQ-1 predator), this aircraft is much larger and more robust. This particular drone is capable of destroying targets with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other munitions.

How long can a Reaper stay in the air?

This Reaper particularly can stay in the air while carrying weapons for more than 12 hours. Moreover, without weapons it can stay in the air for almost 20 hours.

What kind of weapons can MQ 9A  carry?

According to Royal Air Force, this Reaper can carry two 500lb GBU-12 laser-guided bombs and four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. In May 2008, Reaper was successfully tested to carry four Raytheon GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II 500lb bombs. These bombs have laser and GPS guidance.

What is Ground Station like?

The UAV ground station is built in a 30ft single trailer. The trailer consists of a pilot and payload operator consoles and three Boeing data exploitation and mission planning consoles. Moreover, the trailer also has two synthetic aperture radar workstations together with satellite. The trailer also contains line-of-sight ground data terminals.

This ground station can send visual data to the operational users or to the Trojan Spirit data distribution system via a landline. The Trojan Spirit data distribution system is equipped with a 5.5m dish for Ku-band ground data terminal whereas data dissemination is handled by a 2.4m dish.

What are operations of MQ 9A?

In March 2005, US Air Force awarded a contract for the system design and development (SDD) of MQ-9 Reaper. USAF ordered 21 Reapers and initially received 8. In March 2007, the USAF formed first MQ9A squadron by the name of 42nd attack squadron which was based at Creech AFB in Nevada. USAF first deployed this drone to Afghanistan in October for precision airstrikes. It flew its first operational mission in July 2008 in Iraq.

Who are the Contractors for this drone?

It is a common knowledge that General Atomics is the prime contractor of the predator UAV. If we talk about the subcontractors of this project, then Versatron / Wescam is responsible for the electro-optical Skyball Gimbal, Northrop Grumman provides the synthetic aperture radar, Boeing for the intelligence workstation & mission planning system and L3 Communication for the wide band satellite communications link.

Current situation of Foreign Military sale of Reapers:

The UK requested the foreign military sale of two MQ-9 Reaper systems in 2006. These reapers were delivered to RAF in mid 2007 hence RAF deployed the reaper in Afghanistan in November 2007. Additional ten reapers were requested by Uk in January 2008. Whereas, Italy requested the foreign military sale of four reapers with three ground stations in August 2008.

In April 2019, Spain placed an order for two MQ-9A reapers. The first reaper system was delivered to Spain in December 2019.
In July 2018, Royal Netherlands Airforce (RNLAF) contracted General Atomic-ASI to purchase MQ-9 Reaper systems. The Australian government awarded Ga-ASI a A$2bn contract to deliver reapers in November 2019. These aircrafts are expected to be delivered between 2018 and 2038.

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Oh and one more thing, if you want to buy and fly one of your very own small drones then read 3 Best Drones to buy in 2020!

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Muntaha Saleem
She is an Editor-in-Chief . She is a Telecom engineer and a blogger. She loves to blog about latest technology news and products.

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