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MQ-9 Reaper: An inside look at the drone that US employed to kill Qasem Soleimani

MQ-9 Reaper drone has a laser range finder/designator, which precisely designates targets for employment of laser-guided munitions, such as the Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway II. It was this technology that the United States used to attack the convoy of Iran General Qasem Soleimani.

India TV News Desk India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: January 03, 2020 19:25 IST
An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
Image Source : US AIR FORCE

An MQ-9 Reaper is armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The US used this technology to pinpoint Soleimani convoy in Baghdad. (File Photo)

The killing of General Qasem Soleimani, a top commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, happened near the busy Baghdad International Airport. The location came as a surprise for many experts simply because of the precision of the attack in Baghdad. The United States drone attack eliminated a target from miles away in the sky. The execution was perfect as there was no collateral damage. Indiatvnews.com takes a look at the MQ-9 Reaper drone, the beautiful machine that helped the United States eliminate one of the most potent foes in the Middle-East.  

To start with, MQ-9 Reaper drone has a laser range finder/designator, which precisely designates targets for employment of laser-guided munitions, such as the Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway II. It was this technology that the United States used to attack the convoy of Iran General Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani, along with five others, was killed in the drone strike that was authorised by United States President Donald Trump at Baghdad International Airport. 

The unparalleled capabilities of MQ-9 Reaper drone that killed Qasem Soleimani

  1. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft. It is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. 
  2. MQ-9 Reaper is larger and more heavily-armed than the MQ-1 Predator and attacks time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, to destroy or disable those targets. 
  3. The Reaper has a significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons. It provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets. 
  4. That's not it. Reapers can perform more tasks such as -- intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy/raid overwatch, target development, and terminal air guidance. 
  5. The baseline system of the MQ-9 reaper carries the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, which has a robust suite of visual sensors for targeting. The MTS-B integrates an infrared sensor, color/monochrome daylight TV camera, image-intensified TV camera, laser range finder /designator, and laser illuminator. The full-motion video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused.
  6. The unit also incorporates a laser range finder/designator, which precisely designates targets for employment of laser-guided munitions, such as the Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway II. The Reaper is also equipped with a synthetic aperture radar to enable future GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions targeting. The MQ-9 can also employ four laser-guided , Air-to-Ground Missile (AGM)-114 Hellfire missiles, which provide highly accurate, low-collateral damage, anti-armor and anti-personnel engagement capabilities.
  7. The MQ-9 Reaper can be disassembled and loaded into a single container for deployment worldwide. The entire system can be transported in the C-130 Hercules, or larger aircraft. 
  8. The MQ-9 aircraft operates from standard U.S. airfields with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna, which provides line-of-sight communications for takeoff and landing. The PPSL provides over-the-horizon communications for the aircraft and sensors.

The Background

The MQ-9 Reaper System was proposed by the US Air Force in response to the Department of Defense directive to support initiatives of overseas contingency operations. It is larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator, and is designed to execute time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets. The "M" is the DOD designation for multi-role, and "Q" means remotely piloted aircraft system. The "9" indicates it is the ninth in the series of remotely piloted aircraft systems.

MQ-9 Reaper in numbers

General characteristics

Primary function: find, fix, and finish targets
Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
Power plant: Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine
Thrust: 900 shaft horsepower maximum
Wingspan: 66 feet (20.1 meters)
Length: 36 feet (11 meters)
Height: 12.5 feet (3.8 meters)
Weight: 4,900 pounds (2,223 kilograms) empty  
Maximum takeoff weight: 10,500 pounds (4,760 kilograms)  
Fuel capacity: 4,000 pounds (602 gallons)
Payload: 3,750 pounds (1,701 kilograms)
Speed: cruise speed around 230 mph (200 knots)
Range: 1,150 miles (1,000 nautical miles)
Ceiling: Up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Armament: combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions  
Crew (remote): two (pilot and sensor operator)  
Unit cost: $64.2 million (includes four aircraft, sensors, GCSs, and Comm.) (fiscal 2006 dollars)  

(All data as published by US Air Force)

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