Monday, July 16, 2007


Today's news includes a new weapons deployment: the MQ-9 “Reaper” (aka “Predator B”) is being deployed to Afghanistan and (a little later) Iraq. This weapon system is one of the best examples of the U.S. employing its technology capabilities in modern warfare. I was expecting this system to be developed and deployed much more quickly than has proved the case, but nonetheless it is now on the way to the battlefield.

From the Air Force web site:


A typical Predator system configuration would include four aircraft, one ground control system and one Trojan Spirit II data distribution terminal. The Predator air vehicle is 27ft in length and has a 49ft wingspan. The system operates at an altitude of 25,000ft and at a range of 400nm.

The endurance of the air vehicle is more than 40 hours and the cruise speed is over 70kt. The air vehicle is equipped with UHF and VHF radio relay links, a C-band line-of-sight data link which has a range of 150nm and UHF and Ku-band satellite data links.


The surveillance and reconnaissance payload capacity is 450lb and the vehicle carries electro-optical and infrared cameras and a synthetic aperture radar. The two-colour DLTV television is equipped with a variable zoom and 955mm Spotter. The high resolution FLIR has six fields of view, 19mm to 560mm.

The Raytheon Multi-spectral Targeting System (MTS-A) is fitted on the MQ-1/9 Predator. The MTS-A provides real-time imagery selectable between infrared and day TV as well as a laser designation capability. MQ-1 can employ two laser-guided Hellfire anti-armour missiles with the MTS.

The Northrop Grumman TESAR synthetic aperture radar, which provides all-weather surveillance capability, has a resolution of 1ft. Other payload options, which can be selected to meet mission requirements, include a laser designator and rangefinder, electronic support and countermeasures and a Moving Target Indicator (MTI).

This is not your mama's UAV. The multiple imaging systems on board, operating across a broad spectrum from radio frequencies to visible light, give the Reaper an ability to see and designate targets that is almost magical. The long loiter time, high ceiling, and relatively high top speed combine to provide a weapons platform with nearly instantaneous availability over a battlefield. And its ability to carry several different weapons systems on standard pylons means that it is as lethal and flexible as our top-end manned aircraft.

The Reaper is arguably the first generation of real robotic weapons platforms. It is most definitely not a toy or an experiment; it is a real, live weapons platform that made it all the way through a sometimes reluctant procurement process (the Air Force, in particular, has not always been eager to displace pilots). I believe it is a foretaste of the way future wars will be fought, and most especially of the way America can leverage its technological prowess to reduce the blood cost of war. Weapons systems in the air were almost inevitably the first to be robotized – but I don't think the ground-based systems will be far behind…

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