On Wednesday the General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper unmanned attack vehicle dropped its first precision-guided bombs in anger, not long after the combat debut of the MQ-9/Hellfire combination.
The Reaper has operated in Afghanistan since September 25, and by November 8 had flown 45 sorties. Its first combat strike occurred on October 27, when U.S. forces fired an AGM-114K Hellfire II laser-guided missile over Deh Rawod on enemy combatants.
On November 7 the Reaper got the chance to demonstrate its heavy attack capability when friendly ground forces began to take fire. A joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) on the ground requested assistance and provided attack co-ordinates to the Reaper crew. They dropped two GBU-12 500-pound laser-guided bombs, eliminating the enemy force.
During combat missions the unmanned aircraft are maintained, launched and recovered by deployed personnel, but mission control is handed over to crews based at Creech AFB, Nevada (formerly Indian Springs).
The first Reaper–at the time known as the Predator B–first flew on Feb. 2, 2001, from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ flight test facility at El Mirage, California. Today the Reaper flies with the 42nd Attack Squadron of the 432nd Wing, headquartered at Creech. The vehicle is a turboprop-powered “hunter-killer” derived from the combat-proven MQ-1 Predator A configuration.
In August this year the Predator A fleet notched its 25,000th flight and 300,000th flight hour.
Whereas the Predator A can only carry two Hellfires in the attack role, the Reaper has the ability to carry multiple Hellfires and much heavier weapons, such as the GBU-12 LGB and GBU-38 GPS-guided JDAM bomb.