A US Air Force (USAF) MQ-9 Reaper particpated in a training exercise on the Korean peninsula on 19 April 2024, in which the system fired an inert GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided munition at a ground-based simulated target at at South Korea’s Pilsung Range.

US Indo Pacific Command announced the declassified details on 30 April 2024, along with a 13-second video demonstrating the successful exercise.

The Reaper joined in the Korea Flying Training (KFT) 2024 – the largest Republic of Korea (ROK) and US combined flying training event, held annually on Korean peninsula. It marked the first time the autonomous aircraft has deployed to the ROK and participated in live munitions training.

Besides the Reaper’s participation, US Marines flew F-35 Lightning II fighters and interoperated with their Korean allies, which also operate the fighter aircraft.

During KFT 24 the aircraft was configured to participate in numerous training scenarios to rehearse its precision strike, close air support, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

MQ-9 Reaper and the laser guided bomb

The Paveway II is an advanced, lightweight laser-guided munition developed jointly by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, an RTX business.

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Offering a shelf life of ten years, the bomb employs a semi-active laser seeker for guidance. The canards are equipped with pneumatic controls, while the airfoil group integrates extendable wings for lift and stability.

The Paveway II enhanced laser guided training round. Credit: Lockheed Martin via Airforce Technology.

The enhanced version of Paveway II is capabile of carrying the MK-82, MK-83, MK-84 and BLU-109 warheads. The MK-80 series and BLU-109 warheads are developed by General Dynamics for the DoD.

Meanwhile, the USAF first deployed the Reaper to Afghanistan in October 2007 for precision airstrikes. It flew its first operational mission in Iraq in July 2008.

The MQ-9 Reaper has an operational ceiling of 15,240 metres (50,000ft), a maximum internal payload of 362.8kg (800lb) and external payload exceeding 1,360.7kg (3,000lb).

It can carry up to four Hellfire II anti-armour missiles and two laser-guided bombs (GBU-12 or EGBU-12) and 226.8kg (500lb) GBU-38 JDAM (joint direct attack munition).