Attrition: Reapers Get Reaped

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April 23,2008: A quarter of theMQ-9 Reaper UAVs in service were destroyed in accidents during the last month. Two went down in Iraq, and one British Reaper crash landed in Afghanistan. Some kind of "mechanical failure" is suspected in all these cases. The Reaper has been in development for seven years, and flying for six. But many changes have been made to the aircraft over that time, so the thousands of hours flown so far are less of a guarantee that all potential problems have been found.

Within the next two years, the U.S. Air Forceplans to buy up to 70 MQ-9 Reapers (or Predator B). While the original Predator was a reconnaissance aircraft that could carry weapons (two Hellfire missiles, each weighing a hundred pounds), the Reaper was designed as a combat aircraftthat also does reconnaissance. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet and a payload of 1.7 tons. The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided 500 pound bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB, or Hellfire missiles.Predators cost about $4.5 million each (with sensors, about half as much without), while the Reaper goes for about $8.5 million (with sensors). The Reaper can only stay in the air for up to 24 hours. But experience has shown that few missions require 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 in three years, and switch over to the Reaper, and the new U.S. Army Sky Warrior (or "Predator C").

 


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