Tag Archives: MQ-9 Reaper

Almost Unnoticed, U.S. Air Force Begins MQ-9 Reaper Drone Operations out of Poland

USAF deploys its MQ-9 Reaper Drones to Poland.

USAF issued a short release, suggesting that the service has deployed MQ-9 Reaper UAV systems to Poland. The drones would be stationed at the Mirosławiec Air Base, which is the Poland’s airbase dedicated to host the unmanned platforms. The release issued by the Americans reads as follows:

The United States and Poland have a standing relationship to address issues of regional and global security. To advance those interests, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, the air component of U.S. European Command, is operating MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at Miroslawiec Air Base as a visible expression of U.S. efforts to enhance regional stability. This mission, starting in May 2018, has been fully coordinated with the Polish government. It is designed to promote stability and security within the region and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners.

The release, as we can see, is laconic and went by virtually unnoticed. It was issued on May 21 and does not specifiy how long the deployment is going to last. The Mirosławiec Airbase only operates smaller UAV platforms, hence Reapers would be a major addition to its capabilities.

The news issued by USAFE sparked some doubts and questions among the experts and defense media practitioners in Poland. Since the Polish MoD cancelled some of its drone procurement plans some time ago, shifting the priorities, the USAFE assets may act as a complementary measure filling in the capability gap – this is an opinion that has widely circulated in the Polish defense media public sphere. The experts suggest that no further procurement in the area of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) would be pursued by the Polish MoD, making use of the US assets to complement the capabilities at hand even though, for what deals with JASSMs (Joint Air-to-Surface Strategic Missiles) that have been acquired by the Polish Air Force, there is concern about a capability gap when it comes to actually designating targets for this strategic weapon.

Dawid Kamizela who works an analyst for the Polish Dziennik Zbrojny outlet expressed his concern that the UAVs in Poland may not even boost the Polish ISR capabilities. In a conversation, he told us the following:

According to what we have seen when it comes to operational practice pertaining to the MQ-9, the detachment in Poland, most probably, solely deals with maintenance of the assets and take offs and landings. The core of the operational activities would be controlled from CONUS, and the intelligence gathered when the UAV is flying in the Polish airspace is also being sent to CONUS directly – it is not being collected in Poland, it does not even ‘touch’ any part of the Polish infrastructure. As worrying as it is, the above would mean that even if Poland receives any intelligence, it would not come in a form of raw data, but rather as an interpreted report. Taking the local awareness into account, along with the knowledge of local conditions and geopolitical factors, the US interpretation may differ from the conclusions that could potentially be formed by the Polish analysts in Warsaw. This sparks numerous doubts, when it comes to the actual boost of the Polish ISR capability.

The Polish military has no MALE UAVs at its disposal now, procurement is being planned as a part of the Zefir programme that has not, fortunately, been a subject to cuts. MQ-9 and Israeli Hermes 900 platforms are viable candidates here. The Israeli drones, as the Defence24 outlet notes, have already made their operational debut in the Polish airspace, during the NATO Summit hosted in Warsaw and the World Youth Day. Two Zefir packages, as Defence24 recalled, are to be acquired until 2022, with procurement of another two envisaged as an option after the aforesaid deadline.

An-124 cargo aircraft were used to transfer the MQ-9s in Poland.

According to the unofficial information we have obtained, the Reapers arrived in Poland on May 9 and they were transported via the NATO SALIS solution by two An-124 airlifters that landed at the Poznan airport.

Image Credit: USAF, An-124 Image Credit: Jacek Siminski

RAF Reaper Drone Footage Shows The Moment A Hellfire Missile Stops A Public Execution By Targeting An ISIS Sniper

Here’s the footage of a RAF Reaper drone unleashing Hellfire missile to stop a public execution in Syria.

The news of a successful RAF MQ-9 Reaper air strike on Islamic State militants to stop a public execution in Abu Kamal, Syria, was made public in May this year; yesterday, the UK MoD released the actual footage of the drone attack.

The clip show two handcuffed prisoners being unloaded from a van in front of a large group of spectators. Instead of targeting the militants on the ground, because that would have also killed civilians, the drone targeted a sniper standing guard on a nearby roof.

The explosion sent the crowd fleeing and the civilians and fighters scatter before the killing can be carried out.

Although the MoD refused to say whether the drone was remotely piloted from RAF Waddington or from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada the mission was overseen from the combined air operations centre (Caoc) based at al-Udeid airbase, in Qatar.

The RAF Reapers are employed in accordance with the so-called Remote Split Operations (RSO): the aircraft is launched from an airbase in theater under direct line-of-sight control of the local ground control station. Then, by means of satellite data link, it is taken on charge and guided from either Creech AFB or Waddington. When the assigned mission is completed, it is once again handed over to a pilot in Afghanistan, who lands it back to the forward deployment airfield. The 1-second delay introduced by the satellite link is not compatible with the most delicate phases of flight; hence, aircraft are launched and recovered in line-of-sight by the deployed ground control station.

The Royal Air Force 39 Sqn operates a fleet of five Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) whose main mission in ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) along with the task of providing armed support to forces on the ground, engaging, if required, “emerging targets in accordance with extant UK Rules of Engagement and the UK Targeting Directive.”

The Reaper drone is armed with GBU-12 500lb laser guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. “The Rules of Engagement (ROE) used for Reaper weapon releases are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft;the weapons are all precision guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, this may include deciding not to release a weapon. Reaper is not an autonomous system and does not have the capability to employ weapons unless it is commanded to do so by the flight crew. The majority of the weapons employed from reaper have been Hellfire missiles. Hellfire has a relatively small warhead which helps minimise any risk of collateral damage. Regardless of the type of weapon system employed, a full collateral damage assessment is conducted before any weapon release; this is irrespective of whether that weapon is released by a manned or remotely piloted aircraft,” says the RAF website.

Each Reaper aircraft can be disassembled into main components and loaded into a container for air deployment worldwide.

Six MQ-9 Reaper, four MQ-1 Predator drones flying simultaneously, set new world record

A new non-combat record was set on Oct. 2, 2012 by the 29th Attack Squadron, 9th Attack Squadron, and the 6th Reconnaissance Squadron which flew six MQ-9 Reapers and four MQ-1 Predators simultaneously during a training mission at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The new record was made possible by the recent increased training capacity of the 29th ATKS, 9th ATKS and the 6th RS, the squadrons that train all of the Air Force MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircrew members, that brought from 6 to 10, the amount of lines, (consisting of the aircraft, a ground control station and all maintenance and flight personnel required to keep an aircraft airborne) needed to meet the U.S. Air Force drone force training requirements.

The record-setting training flights were manned by 10 crews composed of instructors and students, both pilots and sensor operators.

It will arrive the day when there are more drones than conventional planes flying at a certain time….

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

The news of the record breaking came the day after Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic jump broke three world records.

Enhanced Predator drone can stay airborne for 42 hours

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has designed field retrofitable capabilities–lengthened wings, wing-borne fuel pods, and new heavy-weight landing gear, capable to extend Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper’s already impressive endurance.

Following a recent Endurance Enhancement Study, GA-ASI proposes two different field installable kits that extend endurance without costly depot aircraft modifications:

  1. two underwing fuel pods to be added to the drone’s existing 66 ft wings, increasing endurance from 27 hours to 37 hours.
  2. new 88 ft wings to replace its current 66 ft wings and adding two fuel pods, increasing endurance from 27 hours to 42 hours for ISR-only.

Image credit: GA-ASI

Another modification announced earlier this year and available as field retrofit, is the new trailing arm design for the existing main landing gear on Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper that increases the aircraft’s landing weight capacity by 30 percent and its gross takeoff weight by approximately 12 percent, from 10,500 lb to 11,700 lb. This would allow ‘bots to return at their base with more fuel or heavier payloads. Similar performance metrics, including rejected takeoff loads, would be improved as well.

Drones to gain greater freedom in US airspace (and become a safety nightmare)

The US Congress has approved legislation that will allow drones greater freedom over US airspace. The bill will give guidance to the Federal Aviation Administration over the next 4 years and give it the authority to open up greater areas to UAS (unmanned aerial systems). Worth some $63.4 billion, the bill includes some $11 billion to update the air traffic control system and achieve greater safety and collision avoidance in crowded airspaces by means of GPS-based ADS-B rather than radar control.

This would allow MQ-9 Reaper units, that are currently compelled to operate away from their main operating bases (with consequent logistical trouble due to having to ferry personnel to areas which can provide the unhindered training environment), the opportunity to exploit nearby stateside airspaces.

It was during operations over Libya in 2011 that aircraft enthusiasts all around the world became aware of the ability of the pilots of Global Hawks and Reapers to talk to local Air Traffic Control pretty much in the same way a normal manned aircraft would do getting clearance to gain altitude or to transit their controlled air space to waypoints: not only drones requested special corridors (advertised by specific freely available NOTAMs) and altitudes well above those that normal civilian air traffic would ask for, but, quite often, they radioed the aircraft type in the clear when requested by the ATC controller.

This is how unmanned systems will probably operate in the future over the de-restricted airspace: the pilot in his/her ground control station will ask for clearance from Air Traffic control to transit to and from firing ranges and other training facilities which would have otherwise been out of bounds.

The US Department of Homeland Security already use drones to patrol both Northern and Southern borders of the US but the de-restriction of unmanned aerial systems could lead to a greater employment of drones where it was supposed to be limited because of safety concerns.

As pointed out in previous articles, the extensive use of drones doesn’t seem to reduce error occurrences that are the main cause of aircraft crashes within the U.S. Air Force. According to a recently published report about 30 percent of airmen who control drones have been experiencing emotional stress caused from long hours of work.

Are we sure it’s time to open crowded airspace to an impressive fleet of (possibly armed) robots in the hands of operators that are “on the edge of mental illness” because of the tight shifts?

Other countries also limit the use of unmanned systems in their airspace, the UK being one of them which provides a small area over the Irish Sea for the training of UK personnel on WatchKeeper and other unmanned systems.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

Image credit: Nellis AFB