Some background on the MQ-9 Reaper, an upgrade to the MQ-1 Predator. Also, France has armed the Reapers it has deployed in Africa.
9/20/17 – Strategy Page – Counter-Terrorism: Up Close and Constantly– France has 6 U.S. made MQ-9 Reapers in its inventory. Five of them are Niger, used for counterterrorism operations in surrounding countries. The remaining one is in France, used for training. Six more are on order.
To improve capabilities, France started loading the MQ-9s with Hellfire missiles. Their Tiger helicopter gunships already use that missile, so they were in stock and the French munitions maintainers already knew how to load and handle them.
Here are a couple of articles on drones in the US inventory and anti-drone technology.
9/16/16 (yeah, about a year old) – Strategy Page – Warplanes: Reapers Replace Predators – Good background on MQ-9 Reaper.
USAF bought another 30 Reapers in 2016 at a price tag of $13M each. This will bring the total inventory up to 200 by 2019. Article says there were almost 150 Reapers currently in service back in mid-2016.
A few recent articles on military drones: New US variations in use, shootdown of military drones in combat zones, anti-drone technology, and increasing exports of Chinese drones.
My observation: the military drone arms race is on.
7/2/17 – UPI – New Reaper drone variant performs first combat mission – The first in a new series of MQ-9 Reaper drones flew its first combat mission. Referred to as the Block 5, the drone dropped a precision bomb (GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and fired two missiles (AM-114 Hellfire).
Oddly, the article says targets were ISIS positions but does not identify the country where the strike took place.
IS has posted videos of multiple uses of the drones to drop explosives. The frequency of offensive use of the drones is high enough that Iraqi troops must scan the scansky for drones and take cover when one is spotted.
Captured documents indicate IS is doing research to develop new drones and modify off-the-shelf versions.
This is a significant step up from my previous discussion of ISIS’ drone usage. On January 30, I mentioned:
Drone technology marches forward, regardless of whether you or I think it is a good idea. A few recent article:
Incorporating drones into a home security system.
LA Sheriff starts to use drones
US Navy experimenting with swarms of drone ships
ISIS using off-the-shelf quadcopters to drop small bombs.
1/3 – Engadget.com – Your next home security system could deploy patrol drones – A company has developed a security system with a learning algorithm which ‘learns’ the normal routine at your home. When something happens outside the range of normal, the system can deploy drones to put several cameras on the situation.
Several recent articles reveal research into weaponizing drones:
Russian nuke-armed drone sub
DARPA trying to develop swarm capability
successful test of a swarm
converting full size plane into drone with drop-in package
12/8 – Bill Gertz at Washington Free Beacon – Russia Tests Nuclear-Capable Drone Sub – Published reports in Russia indicates their military is developing a drone sub that can travel 6,200 miles, dive to 3,280 feet, and zip along at 56 knots.
Most troublesome is it will equipped to carry a nuclear weapon, possibly up to the massively huge size of 100 megatons.
The US is increasing its troops and surveillance resources in Africa.
10/10 – Strategy Page– Intelligence: Long Eyes in Central Africa– (Yeah, I’ve been holding this post for a while.) The U.S. is building its second airbase in Africa, this time in Agadez, Niger. Aerial surveillance aircraft will fly out of the base along with unmanned UAVs, including armed UAVs, according to the article.
This base will serve growing intel needs in Libya, Chad, and Nigeria, according to the article. It is also next door to Mali so it can support intel needs there.
New rules for small drones allow commercial use of drones
Drones as bold security guards
Cubesats that can count all the cars in all the parking lots of a retailer
Research underway for merchant ships that can travel the world without any crew members on board
8/30 – Wall Street Journal – Business-Drone Rules to Take Effect – New rules governing business use of drones up to 55 pounds go into effect this day. Previously, rules required all drone operators to merely register with the feds. New rules allow business use of drones, by licensed pilots, within line-of-site, during the day, with drones under 55 pounds.
Expect more rules to address flight beyond line-of-site, and how to operate when people are underneath the drone.
12/27 – Wall Street Journal – Air Force Looks Beyond Officers to Boost Drone-Pilot Ranks – USAF is moving towards having enlisted troops fly drones. To this point rated pilots had to be at the controls. The increased demands for joint operations combined with staffing limits along with the dreariness of the work has created a shortage of qualified pilots. To fill a gap, USAF may use enlisted pilots.