Last month, the U.S. Air Force began a new set of tests to see if the MQ-9 Reaper drone can safely fly with eight Hellfire missiles, doubling the total number carried by the drone. The first in a series of tests took place at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

The MQ-9 Reaper test was undertaken by the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron in Nevada on September 10th. The drone was carrying eight AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to further the Predator’s “persistent attack” role.

The test is a part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade that is planned for deployment by the end of 2020. The software update will allow an extra four Hellfire missiles to be attached to points that were previously used for fuel tanks and 500-pound bombs. The Reaper drones will not need any hardware modification to fly with the extra Hellfire missiles.

Capt. Arthur James, lead MQ-9 OT&E project manager for the test said:

“Doubling the Hellfire capacity increases MQ-9 flexibility, responsiveness, and lethality. While this capability is just one of the various upgrades to OFP 2409, it is one that benefits the MQ-9 across current and future AORs in which we are expected to fight.”

The upgrade to the combat drone will allow it to dynamically hit priority targets and defend isolated personnel. The added firepower will allow the drone to fire more missiles at larger targets to better suppress them. Currently, Reaper drones are forced to slow down their attacks to ensure they have enough firepower to clear out targets.

Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander followed with:

“The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron continues to break barriers to maximize MQ-9 relevance across the spectrum of conflict to develop capabilities for today and tomorrow’s warfighter. This team never fails to impress me. OFP tests are very rigorous and require a squadron‑wide effort. Pair that effort with the fast-paced aspect of this OFP cycle, the Advanced Battle Management System demonstration, restrictions from COVID-19, and the unique approaches to overcome these challenges to deliver the tactical advantage to the warfighter without delay are proven impressive.”

MQ-9 Reaper

The MQ-9 Reaper, commonly known as the Predator B, has a maximum flight speed of 300 miles per hour and a cruising speed of 194 miles per hour. The drone can stay in the air for up to 14 hours when fully loaded thanks to the Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engineer pumping out 900 horsepower.

The Reaper holds a combined payload weight of 3,800 pounds, with 800 pounds of it being stored internally and the other 3,000 pounds external. The drone has seven hardpoints that allow various ammunitions to be mounted to it and can accommodate a maximum of four Hellfire missiles, soon to be eight, and two Paveway 2 laser-guided bombs.

You can read more of our coverage of the MQ-9 Reaper below:

Photo: U.S. Air Force

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