The US Air Force’s (USAF) Creech Air Force Base (AFB) in Nevada, US, is replacing its MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft systems with Block 5 MQ-9 Reapers.

The introduction of Block 5 technology enables combatant commanders’ uninterrupted persistent attack and reconnaissance capabilities. The Block 5 MQ-9 Reapers were recently upgraded with updated software and increased flight range.

The USAF’s first remotely piloted aircraft, MQ-1, was modified after aircrew and ground forces alike identified the need for upgraded capabilities to ensure successful missions downrange.

USAF 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) commander major Seth said: “The recent ongoing shipments of MQ-9s downrange are significant as they involve the latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper, the Block 5 variant, which flew its first successful combat mission on 23 June 2017 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.”

A total of 16 Block 5 MQ-9s will be delivered to various areas of responsibility by the end of this year, the USAF stated.

“A total of 16 Block 5 MQ-9s will be delivered to various areas of responsibility by the end of this year.”

To ensure the aircraft operates as intended prior to shipment, the MQ-9s must be unpacked, assembled and inspected for operational readiness before they are deployed.

432nd AMXS Reaper Aircraft Maintenance unit flight line expeditor technical sergeant Jesse said: “The actual unpacking and repacking process requires around 28 airmen across two shifts to complete.”

The new Block 5 technology is claimed to have three to four times longer range capability compared to its predecessor, the MQ-1.

Nearly 90 airmen are continuously deployed to three geographically separated locations in the coming months to support MQ-9 combat operations abroad.

Image: A C-17 Globemaster sits on the flight line as a loadmaster readies an MQ-9 Reaper shipping container at Creech AFB. Photo: courtesy of senior airman James Thompson via the USAF.