Iconic UAV Needs Replacement

Iconic UAV Needs Replacement

An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down a runway in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

The United States Air Force is looking to replace its fleet of MQ-9 Reaper attack drones with a newer attack drone capable of meeting the standards of the modern battlefield. Regardless of the Reaper’s success rates in operations and wars, the drone is easily shot down and is incapable of surviving modern air defenses.

Interested in unmanned aerial vehicles? Attend AUS&R Unmanned Systems and Robotics Conference and Exhibition on September 6, 2020.

Faster, larger, and more heavily armed than the Predator drone, the MQ-9 Reaper has excelled at flying missions over Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and more. First introduced in 2007, the Reaper is capable of lingering for hours in air, waiting for the right time to strike, before unleashing laser guided weapons or Hellfire missiles. 

The Reaper is the largest unclassified drone in the United States Military’s arsenal, the CIA also operates a few of their own Reaper drones.

However, the Reaper only truly excels when flying alone in uncontested airspace. When the drone flies in contested airspace, where enemy aircraft may be flying in the vicinity, it is a different story.

The Reaper’s equipment is no match for the equipment found onboard modern military aircraft. Furthermore, the drone also lacks stealth. Due to its large size and payloads hanging off the wingtips, the Reaper produces a large radar signature. Popularmechanics.com reports that if an enemy fires a missile against a Reaper, then there’s very little the drone’s operator can do to avoid the threat.

The United States military is shifting its military capabilities to be able to combat against an adversary the size of Russia or China. Knowing this and the drone’s lack of capabilities has led to the Air Force cutting its buy of Reaper drones. The United States Air Force is hoping to begin planning the Reaper’s replacement as part of the 2022 budget.

The Reaper’s replacement will have to be stealthy, in order to maintain invisibility on enemy radars. Furthermore, the new UAV will have to be affordable. Each MQ-9 Reaper is worth about $64 million, so if the Air Force wants to replace the UAV on a 1:1 basis, then the replacement shouldn’t be significantly more expensive than the original.

Interested in learning more about unmanned systems? Attend the AUS&R Unmanned Systems and Robotics Conference and Exhibition on September 6, 2020 at the Lago Conference Center, Rishon LeZion.

Details and registration