The US Air Force (USAF) has flown the Block 5 variant of MQ-9 Reaper for the first time, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
The combat mission sortie was conducted at Creech Air Force Base (AFB) in Nevada, US, on 23 June.
The aircraft flew the mission for more than 16 hours with a full payload of weapons, including GBU-38 joint direct attack munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
During the mission, the aircrew employed one GBU-38 and two Hellfires, and provided armed reconnaissance for supported ground forces.
The USAF 432nd Wing director of operations major Dan said: “Working in conjunction with coalition joint terminal attack controllers, other MQ-9 aircraft, and crews, our aircrews employed two Hellfires and one GBU-38.
“All three strikes met the ground force commander’s intent and destroyed two defensive fighting positions, two vehicles, and one mortar tube.”
The Block 5 MQ-9’s improved electrical and communications systems provide better software and hardware upgrades for future operations, providing dominant persistent attack and reconnaissance to joint force commanders, the USAF stated.
Additionally, the aircraft must be flown with the new Block 30 cockpit that required different training for the aircrews.
Commenting on the combat mission, the USAF 432nd Wing pilot major Chad said: “Our job is to provide the ground force commanders with effective, persistent attack capability and we will continue to do that with whatever tools the Air Force provides us.”
In April, the new MQ-9 aircraft, which arrived at Creech AFB in February, has received additional modifications such as battery cables and enhanced generator control units.
In May, airworthiness of these MQ-9s was tested after the modifications.
Image: The new Block 5 MQ-9 Reaper is loaded with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, a GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, and a GBU-38 joint direct attack munition. Photo: courtesy of the US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Clausen.