A first: Reaper armed UAV fires first Hellfire missile in combat

Published 1 November 2007

The U.S. Air Force deployed MQ-9A Reaper armed reconnaissance UAVs to Afghanistan, and last week a Reaper launched a missile at enemy combatants some seventy miles from the UAV’s base at Kandahar; al-Queda operatives across the border in Pakistan’s North-West Territories would do well to go even deeper underground

Here is a first: Aviation Weekreported a couple of days ago that the MQ-9A Reaper armed reconnaissance UAV fired its first Hellfire missile at enemy combatants in the Deh Rawod region of Afghanistan, some seventy miles from the UAV’s base at Kandahar. Ground forces said that the strike was effective. For the time being, the U.S.Air Force seems to be taking advantage of the Reaper’s heavier payload relative to the payload of the smaller Predator: The Reaper operates with up to four Hellfires and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, while the Predator is straining under the weight of the two Hellfires it carries. Aviation Week notes that, so far, it is not clear whether the service is using the new UAV’s other advantages: high altitude, longer range, and radar.

All weapons are laser-guided, reflecting a trend toward the laser’s assured targeting. With a coordinate-guided weapon like JDAM the possibility of confusion is never too far away.