U.S. Marines Display Emerging MQ-9 Reaper RPA Capability at MCAS Miramar.

The U.S. Marines displayed their new extended-range MQ-9A ER Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at the MCAS Miramar airshow. (All images: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

New Marine Corps RPAs Will Provide Long Duration Surveillance and Close Air Support.

The giant U.S. Marine M1A1 Abrams tanks were gone from the static displays and action demos at the MCAS Miramar Airshow in 2022. The Marines retired their heavy tank capability during the pandemic in 2021. But an interesting, if less imposing, static display quietly showed up at the back of this year’s displays at MCAS Miramar. And this new exhibit is a significant example of the Marines’ ability to adapt to an increasingly asymmetrical battlespace while maintaining big adversary, peer-to-peer combat capabilities.

For the first time at MCAS Miramar, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, VMU-1, the “Watchdogs” of Yuma, Arizona, displayed a new MQ-9A ER (Extended Range) remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). The unique variant of the highly successful MQ-9 upgrades the legacy Reaper with extended loitering capability. The MQ-9A ER can remain on station over a target area for up to “34 hours”.

The most conspicuous feature of the new U.S. Marine MQ-9A ER Reaper is the pair of new 1200-lb capacity external fuel tanks.

One member of the Marine unit implementing the new MQ-9A ER Reaper capability told TheAviationist.com: “The biggest thing is to be able to have a higher on station time than really any other aircraft in the fleet. Being able to support guys on the ground and being able to stay outside of any perceived threat, potentially 24 hours a day, if we need to.” The member of the unit went on to tell TheAviationist.com that the new capability provided by long endurance MR-9A ERs is, “Supporting the reorganization of the littoral combat teams”.

The U.S. Marine MQ-9A ER Reaper retains the same capabilities as other versions of the successful MQ-9 family but with significantly upgraded range and endurance.

In simple terms, the new U.S. Marine MQ-9A ER gives Marines on the ground and in the near-shore, coastal combat theater a loitering surveillance and precision strike capability down to the small unit level. A new USMC MQ-9A ER can remain in the air over a landing force or detachment of Marine infantry for well over 24 hours without interruption. Additionally, imagery from the MQ-9A ER can be shared in near real-time with in-theater leadership all the way up to the highest level of leadership around the globe.

The U.S. Marine MQ-9A ER Reaper gets the enhanced endurance four-bladed propeller for longer loiter times.

U.S. Marines have had a long-standing indigenous remotely piloted aircraft capability that included the small unit sized Switchblade drone, the larger Raven and Puma RPAs and the previously largest RPA, the RQ-21 Blackjack catapult launched, remotely piloted aircraft. The upgrade to the long endurance MQ-9A ER provides not only enhanced surveillance capability to Marines on the ground, but also brings the combat proven armed capability of the MQ-9 Reaper family to the Marines.

The MQ-9A ER is differentiated from other Reaper versions predominantly by the four-bladed propeller and the two 1200-lb capacity external fuel tanks. These fuel tanks provide up to 25.9% greater endurance depending on winds, temperatures and altitudes. Stated endurance can go from 27-hours to 34-hours. The aircraft also has reinforced landing gear to support the heavier fuel load.

The main landing gear and nose wheel strut of the U.S. Marine MQ-9A ER Reaper is heavier-duty to support the additional fuel weight of the aircraft.

According to a July 18, 2022 report by Ryan Finnerty on FlightGlobal.com, “GA-ASI [General Atomics- Aeronautical Systems Inc.] will begin delivering aircraft and support equipment this winter to facilitate the fleet stand-up in late summer 2023. The UAVs will go to Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, where they will support the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) based in the same area.”

While the interesting, if low-key static display of the MQ-9A ER at the MCAS Miramar Airshow may not have attracted as much public attention as the famous legacy F/A-18 Hornets and new F-35B and C models, Marine flight crews and support personnel from VMU-1, the “Watchdogs”, were enthusiastic about their new mission and capabilities while displaying the MQ-9A ER Reaper at MCAS Miramar. One member of the unit told TheAviationist.com that the MQ-9A ER represents, “The inevitable future” of Marine air capability.

Members of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron-1, VMU-1, the “Watchdogs”, pose near the new MQ-9A ER Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at MCAS Miramar during the airshow there this past weekend. Their faces and names are obscured to maintain operational security.
About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.