The Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS).
- Engines: Honeywell TPE 331-10T
- Thrust: 2,000lbs
- Max speed: 250kts
- Length: 11m
- Max altitude: 50,000ft
- Span: 20.1m
- Aircrew: 2
Who uses the Reaper
The Reaper is a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS). The Reaper's primary mission is to act as an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels. Its secondary mission is to provide pilot-commanded kinetic effect to Land Force commanders for fleeting targets that “pop up” in the battlespace and also to provide Close-Air-Support (CAS) options to the Reaper’s supported unit.
The Reaper RPAS was purchased as a Ministry of Defence urgent operational requirement (UOR) to provide an all-weather, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability 24 hours a day. The first aircraft in RAF service was delivered to Afghanistan in October 2007. Within 6 months of use the requirement to strike at fleeting targets and provide Land Forces with CAS was quickly realised. The UK’s Reaper fleet began armed-ISR mission in May 2008.
The Reaper system consists of 4x Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), 2x Ground Control Station (GCS), communication equipment/links, spares, and personnel from all 3 services and contractor ground crew. At present the UK has 5 aircraft with a further 5 on order with associated ground equipment, spares and personnel.
The Reaper’s primary mission is to act as an ISR asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels. The Reaper’s complimentary mission is to provide armed support to forces on the ground and, if required, engage emerging targets in accordance with extant UK Rules of Engagement and the UK Targeting Directive. UK Reaper is normally armed with 2x GBU-12 500lb laser guided bombs and 4x AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, although this number can be changed to suit particular missions.
The Rules Of Engagement (ROE) used for Reaper weapon release are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft; the weapons are all precision guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, this may include deciding not to release a weapon. UK Reaper is not an autonomous system and does not have the capability to employ weapons unless it is commanded to do so by the flight crew. The majority of the weapons employed from Reaper have been Hellfire missiles. Hellfire has a relatively small warhead which helps minimise any risk of collateral damage. Regardless of the type of weapon system employed, a full collateral damage assessment is conducted before any weapon release; this is irrespective of whether that weapon is released by a manned or remotely piloted aircraft. On current operations, many UK Reaper weapons engagements have been authorised by a Forward Air Controller (FAC) or Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who will be observing the target on the ground or from Land Forces HQs.
The Reaper baseline system has a robust sensor suite for targeting. Imagery is provided by an infrared (IR) sensor, a colour/monochrome daylight electro-optical (EO) TV and an image-intensified TV. The video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused with the IR sensor video. The laser rangefinder/designator provides the capability to precisely designate targets for laser-guided munitions. Reaper also has Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to provide an all weather capability. Reaper can also provide geographic location information to commanders on the ground or to other systems capable of employing Global Positioning System (GPS) guided weapons. The aircraft is also equipped with a colour nose camera, generally used by the pilot to assist in flight control and during take off/landing.
Each Reaper aircraft can be disassembled into main components and loaded into a container for air deployment worldwide on aircraft such as the C-17 and C-130J.
The Reaper RPAS is operated by 39 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The aircraft is operated by a pilot, a sensor operator aided by a non-aircrew Mission Coordinator (MiC). In support of current operations the Reaper RPA is launched from an airfield within Afghanistan by crews deployed in theatre. Once airborne the mission is flown by the crews of 39 Squadron from Creech Air Force Base in the USA by secure satellite communication before control is handed back to the crew in theatre for landing. The current aircrew of UK Reaper have all been previously qualified as pilots on other military aircraft (such as Tornado, Harrier, Apache, Nimrod, Puma and C-130).