MQ-9 Software Upgrade Doubles Hellfire Capacity

An MQ-9 on Sept. 10 doubled its missile capacity, carrying eight AGM-114 Hellfires for the first time thanks to a new software upgrade.

The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron flew the Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., demonstrating the new capability that is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409—an upgrade that will be fielded by the end of the calendar year, according to a 53rd Wing release. With the new capability, the Reaper can carry two missiles, each across four stations. It is also compatible with 500-pound bombs or fuel tanks.

“History has proven the MQ-9’s ability to provide aerial continuity and attack support for air and ground forces during counter-insurgency and Close Air Support,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, commander of the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, in the release. “Doubling the firepower of this high-endurance aircraft with Hellfires improves the lethality and agility of the MQ-9 over many combat roles, with an arsenal of highly versatile, accurate, and collateral-friendly weapons for all Combatant Commanders.”

New requirements from Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command drove the development of the new capability. With the additional capacity, aircrews will be able to improve their dynamic target ability while also defending isolated personnel, Chmielewski said.

The AGM-114 Hellfire is the key weapon for the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft fleet, and it’s regularly used in counter terror operations. It is the missile first fired by a Predator RPA in 2001, when the aircraft’s name was changed from RQ-1 to MQ-1 to reflect the multimission role of the plane.