Reapers Enter Ops in Iraq

The Air Force’s newest unmanned aerial vehicle, the MQ-9 Reaper, on July 18 started operating in Iraq, offering increased weapons capability, longer dwell time, and larger intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance payload than its smaller brother the much-in-demand MQ-1 Predator. USAF sent the Reaper first to Afghanistan, where, since last fall, it has flown some 480 sorties for more than 3,800 hours, according to a July 22 release. It dropped its first precision guided munition for Operation Enduring Freedom in November 2007. Lt. Gen. Gary North, who leads the Combined Force Air Component for US Central Command, said that Predator has proved the value of “persistent stare” for gathering intel, but the Reaper close air support asset “expands beyond the concept of persistent stare to one of persistent strike.” The MQ-9 provides the capability to react with precision weapons “at the exact point where the ground commander wants the desired effect,” stated North and added, “It’s an incredibly powerful and flexible capability.”