Warplanes: Anglo-American Reapers

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May 13,2008: There are only about a dozen American MQ-9 Reapers in service (two of them British), with detachments in Afghanistan and Iraq. No one will say exactly how many are where, but the ones in Afghanistan have, in seven months, flown 320 missions (averaging 7.5 hours each). That's about eleven sorties a week, indication 2-3 UAVs available during that time. At least one of those is British, and one of those has crashed. The Reaper unit in Afghanistan has a mix of British and U.S. personnel, who operate all the Reapers in common.

Within the next two years, the U.S. Air Force plans to buy up to 70 MQ-9 Reapers (or Predator B). While the original Predator was a reconnaissance aircraft that could carry weapons (two Hellfire missiles, each weighing a hundred pounds), the Reaper was designed as a combat aircraft that also does reconnaissance. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet and a payload of 1.7 tons. The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided 500 pound bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB, or Hellfire missiles. Predators cost about $4.5 million each (with sensors, about half as much without), while the Reaper goes for about $8.5 million (with sensors). The Reaper can only stay in the air for up to 24 hours. But experience has shown that few missions require 24 hours endurance. For that reason, the air force decided not to give the Reaper an in-flight refueling capability. The Reaper also carries sensors equal to those found in targeting pods like the Sniper XL or Litening, and flies at the same 20,000 foot altitude of most fighters using those pods. This makes the Reaper immune to most ground fire, and capable of seeing, and attacking, anything down there. All at one tenth of the price of a manned fighter aircraft. The air force expects to stop buying the Predator in three years, and switch over to the Reaper, and the new U.S. Army Sky Warrior (or "Predator C").

 


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