The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason – while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).
The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators, whose price benefits from less advanced design and volume production orders. Given these high-end capabilities, and expenses, one might not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who have both used it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Other countries are also expressing interest, and international deployments are accelerating. Then the US Air Force’s FY13 President Budget cut its requested order pipeline, all of a sudden.