The typical MQ-9 system is composed of multiple aircraft, ground-control stations, satellites, and flight and maintenance crews. The aircraft is powered by a 950 horsepower turboprop, with a maximum speed of about 260 knots (300 miles per hour or 483 km per hour) and a cruising speed of 150-170 knots (278 to 315 km/hour). With a 66 foot wingspan, and a maximum payload of 3800 lb, the MQ-9 can be armed with a variety of weaponry, including Hellfire missiles and 500-lb laser-guided bomb units. The Reaper has a range of 3,682 miles and an operational altitude of 50,000 ft, which make it especially useful for long-term loitering operations, both for surveillance and support of ground troops.
In 2008, the New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing began the transition from F-16 piloted fighters to MQ-9 Reapers, becoming the first fighter squadron conversion to an all-unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) attack squadron. As of March 2011, the U.S. Air Force was training more pilots for advanced unmanned aerial vehicles than for any other single weapons system.
7 Hardpoints; Up to 1,500 lb (680 kg) on the two inboard weapons stations; Up to 750 lb (340 kg) on the two middle stations; Up to 150 lb (68 kg) on the outboard stations ; Center station not used; Up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles can be carried or four Hellfire missiles and two 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. The 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can also be carried. Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile.
Trading off some of the missiles, the MQ-9 Reaper can carry laser guided bombs, such as the GBU-12. The availability of high performance sensors and large capacity of precision guided weapons enable the new Reaper to operate as an efficient “Hunter-Killer” platform, seeking and engaging targets at high probability of success. It is equipped with an L-3 Communications Tactical Common Datalink (TCDL).
Tests are underway to allow for the addition of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile. Air Force believes that the Predator B will give the service an improved “deadly persistence” capability, with the RPV flying over a combat area night and day waiting for a target to present itself.
In this role an armed RPV neatly complements piloted strike aircraft. A piloted strike aircraft can be used to drop larger quantities of ordnance on a target while a cheaper RPV can be kept in operation almost continuously, with ground controllers working in shifts, carrying a lighter ordnance load to destroy targets.