The Reaper: Robot air attack squadron bound for Iraq

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Robot air attack squadron bound for Iraq
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
2 hours, 35 minutes ago

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq - The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It's outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.

The Reaper is loaded, but there's no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.
The arrival of these outsized U.S. "hunter-killer" drones, in aviation history's first robot attack squadron, will be a watershed moment even in an Iraq that has seen too many innovative ways to hunt and kill.

That moment, one the Air Force will likely low-key, is expected "soon," says the regional U.S. air commander. How soon? "We're still working that," Lt. Gen. Gary North said in an interview.

The Reaper's first combat deployment is expected in Afghanistan, and senior Air Force officers estimate it will land in Iraq sometime between this fall and next spring. They look forward to it.

"With more Reapers, I could send manned airplanes home," North said.
The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers.

It's another sign that the Air Force is planning for an extended stay in Iraq, supporting Iraqi government forces in any continuing conflict, even if U.S. ground troops are drawn down in the coming years.

The estimated two dozen or more unmanned MQ-1 Predators now doing surveillance over Iraq, as the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, have become mainstays of the U.S. war effort, offering round-the-clock airborne "eyes" watching over road convoys, tracking nighttime insurgent movements via infrared sensors, and occasionally unleashing one of their two Hellfire missiles on a target.
From about 36,000 flying hours in 2005, the Predators are expected to log 66,000 hours this year over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MQ-9 Reaper, when compared with the 1995-vintage Predator, represents a major evolution of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.
At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size — 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan — is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons.

While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons — or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.
"It's not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command's air component, said of the Reapers. "It's an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability."

"Kinetic" — Pentagon argot for destructive power — is what the Air Force had in mind when it christened its newest robot plane with a name associated with death.
"The name Reaper captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said in announcing the name last September.

General Atomics of San Diego has built at least nine of the MQ-9s thus far, at a cost of $69 million per set of four aircraft, with ground equipment.

The Air Force's 432nd Wing, a UAV unit formally established on May 1, is to eventually fly 60 Reapers and 160 Predators. The numbers to be assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan will be classified.

The Reaper is expected to be flown as the Predator is — by a two-member team of pilot and sensor operator who work at computer control stations and video screens that display what the UAV "sees." Teams at Balad, housed in a hangar beside the runways, perform the takeoffs and landings, and similar teams at Nevada's Creech Air Force Base, linked to the aircraft via satellite, take over for the long hours of overflying the Iraqi landscape.

American ground troops, equipped with laptops that can download real-time video from UAVs overhead, "want more and more of it," said Maj. Chris Snodgrass, the Predator squadron commander here.

The Reaper's speed will help. "Our problem is speed," Snodgrass said of the 140-mph Predator. "If there are troops in contact, we may not get there fast enough. The Reaper will be faster and fly farther."

The new robot plane is expected to be able to stay aloft for 14 hours fully armed, watching an area and waiting for targets to emerge.
"It's going to bring us flexibility, range, speed and persistence," said regional commander North, "such that I will be able to work lots of areas for a long, long time."

The British also are impressed with the Reaper, and are buying three for deployment in Afghanistan later this year. The Royal Air Force version will stick to the "recon" mission, however — no weapons on board.
More Info on the Reaper.:

UAVs Replacing F-16s

July 12, 2007: The U.S. Air Force is sending its new MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to
Afghanistan and Iraq, not as reconnaissance aircraft, but as
replacements for F-16 and F-15 fighter-bombers. While the manned
aircraft can carry five or six times as many bombs as a Reaper, this
does not matter. The reaper can carry up to four 500 pound JDAM smart
bombs. While over 300 JDAMs were dropped per day during the 2003
invasion of Iraq, in the last few years, the average number dropped per
day is, at most, 3-4 bombs. More JDAMs are dropped in Afghanistan, but
even there, half a dozen a day, over the entire country, is a lot. Thus
a half a dozen Reapers can easily replace half a dozen F-16s or F-15s.
This saves a lot of money, as the two man crews for the Reaper (pilot
and sensor operator) are back in the United States, and operate the UAVs via a satellite link. The UAVs have a major advantage over manned
fighter-bombers, in that they can stay over the target area longer, and
do so with relief crews, so that there are always alert eyes using the
powerful sensors (similar to the targeting pods on fighters) carried by
the Reaper. The major disadvantage of the Reaper is its slow speed
(about 500 kilometers an hour). Speed is a factor if you have a
situation develop on the ground somewhere, and warplanes have to be
rushed in. For that reason, some "fast movers" (jet fighters) will
remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, ready to rush to an emergency at twice
the speed of a UAV.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force formed the first UAV Wing. The
432nd Wing contains eight squadrons (six Predator, one Reaper and one
maintenance). Each UAV squadron has at least twelve UAVs, and sometimes as many as 24. Squadrons have 400-500 personnel. Only about two thirds of those troops go overseas with the UAVs. The rest stay behind in the United States, and fly the Predators via a satellite link. The 432nd has at least 60 MQ-1 Predators and six MQ-9 Reapers (also called Predator B) UAVs. When in a combat zone, each UAV averages about 110 hours in the air each month. Each aircraft flies 6-7 sorties a month, each one lasting 17-18 hours on average.

In three years, the air force expects to have fifteen UAV squadrons, and
at least one more UAV Wing. During that period it is buying 170 MQ-1
Predators, and up to 70 MQ-9 Reapers (or Predator B). While the 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 Reaper can carry over a ton of GPS or laser guided 500 pound bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB, or hundred pound Hellfire missiles.

The Predators cost about $4.5 million each, while the Reaper goes for
about $8.5 million, for the basic aircraft, but nearly twice as much
once you add high grade sensors. The Reaper can only stay in the air for
up to 24 hours, versus 40 hours for the Predator. But experience has
shown that few missions require even 24 hours endurance. For that
reason, the air force decided not to give the Reaper an inflight
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 until 2011, and then
switch over to the Reaper, and new designs still in development.
Getting more like a Dale Brown book every day.
It's actually something that worries me; THe thought of a bunch of UCAV's flying around, fully laden with weaponry but with no human inside, scares me.

It's probably just a mix of phobia of unthinking machine having the capability to do whatever it wants combined with the threat to my future career (Pilot, AAC), imagined or not.

Does it not worry other people that these UCAV's are going to be able to do serious damage without the failsafe of a human onboard?
its impressive and scary to say the least,

Terminators on the streets of Basra next??


The Goon - what career?

The RAF are to get three. One will be used for training, one will go into mothballs while they find the money to operate it, while the third will go into a mod program, where a civilian contractor will destroy vital components while holding a big drill in one hand, and the the plans upside down in the other.
The fact is, a UAV is no more risky than a manned aircraft. The boys in the control centre back in the states can see as much on their screens as a pilot/nav can in his targetting pod. As long as the comms are good with them then there is no problem. There is no need to worry as there will always be a man in the loop - although, as we have seen in recent news (blue-on-blue), that doesn't mean completely failsafe.

For this conflict they are the ideal solution; long loiter and plentiful.
But can it order room service, grow a silly moustache and block up the bar while wearing man-made fibres and talking piffle at the top of its voice?
Aloysius said:
But can it order room service, grow a silly moustache and block up the bar while wearing man-made fibres and talking piffle at the top of its voice?
UAVs actually take it to a whole new level. IIRC the Predator pilots are getting campaign gongs without having to stray more than 5 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. So it will be plaid shorts, brown sandals, grey socks and bum bags (fanny packs, for the colonials) all round. :D
Just out of interest, what happens if comms are lost? Does it keep going in a straight line, return to base and land itself, or just pile into the ground?
The_Goon said:
Just out of interest, what happens if comms are lost? Does it keep going in a straight line, return to base and land itself, or just pile into the ground?
Heh. I think they're programmed to automatically go to back to base and within range of a line-of-sight transmitter to guide them down. But this is indeed a big issue. If you can take out Uncle Sam's wideband sattelites he's going to be struggling to operate UAV's at any distance from base. Unless of course the UAV's are completely autonomous, in which case they may decide to stop obeying their human masters and go on a rampage to destroy mankind and institute the Rule of the
Why control them from Nevada? Surely it is better to have a local command that you can talk to, invite to breifs or throttle when the drop a ball?

Maj. Chris Snodgrass
No fcuking way......
Something about remotely operated platforms delivering ordinance gives me the willies...
I wonder what sort of medal the septics will dish out to the operator -

Robot W*nker First Class?

Master Robot W*nker?

I think we should be told

Well... there have been UAV operators already whining that they deserve awards normally reserved for valor. USAF UAVs are controlled by pilots... US Army and USMC ones have enlisted directing them.

On the green side, a couple folks have gotten Army Commendation medals for completing challenging assignments... the ARCOM is a dual purpose award that given for excellent performance in support of operations in peace or wartime, but when awarded with a V device can be given for similar performance in combat. Not going to get into the politics of it but suffice to say an ARCOM with a V is what a lower enlisted who kicks ass on a operation and isn't wounded in the process can expect to receive... similar performance by senior enlisted or an officer results in a Bronze Star w/ V.

USAF UAV jockeys are pushing hard to receive kudos equal to their in cockpit peers... because they feel that they will be short-shifted come promotion time otherwise. Personally... I hope they get torpedoed down... to give an award for bravery when no actual physical risk is just wrong.

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