Reaper is an armed and dangerous machine, which might become even more lethal with the newly improved Hellfire missiles.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a military drone, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems mainly for the United States Air Force. It can be remote-controlled (and usually is by a ground-based crew of two), but it is capable of remote operations as well.
The MQ-9 Reaper performed its maiden flight in 2001 and entered service in 2007. It is a large aircraft with a wingspan of 20 meters and a length of 11 meters. Reaper is pushed by a single turboprop engine and can reach a maximum speed of 482 km/h, although it usually cruises at 313.
AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles are its best weapon and it can carry up to four of them. It is believed that the MQ-9 Reaper will be in service until 2035, which means that it can and should be continuously improved. Such as with advanced Hellfire missiles.
The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, or AATC, announced that it has tested a new version of the Hellfire missile. The biggest, most significant improvement is range – the new AGM-114R-4 can fly three times as far as previous versions of the Hellfire.
Wikipedia states AGM-114 Hellfire’s range as 0.5 to 11 km, which means that improvements could be significant. It is said that these advancements might double the MQ-9’s standoff range.
It is not revealed at this point what modifications brought the Hellfire to the AGM-114R-4 version. This air-to-ground (sometimes air-to-air) missile is powered by a solid-fuel rocket engine, which is fairly old at this point. Improvements to it as well as the guidance system could have brought the improvements in range.
Since Hellfire missiles are mounted on external hardpoints under the belly of the MQ-9 Reaper, they could have grown in length as well to carry more fuel. A standard Hellfire missile is just 1.6 meters long. We simply don’t know, because AATC doesn’t share this information just yet.
Hellfire missiles were always quite short in range, which puts the drone itself in quite a bit of danger, because it has to come close to the enemy. AGM-114R-4 should solve this issue at least partially, which will improve the survivability of the drone. Hellfire missiles can be used to attack armored machinery, but their primary purpose is precise attacks on high-value targets, such as enemy headquarters and leading personnel.
The MQ-9 Reaper has been flying for two decades at this point and was in service for one and a half decades. During this time the method of drone usage has changed and enemies have learned a lot about the American drones. This means that the Reaper needs to continue improving and the extended-range Hellfire missiles are a good way to achieve a higher level of capability.