Directed from Nevada, Air Force’s unmanned aircraft makes first bomb strike in Afghanistan

The US Air Force is reporting its satellite-controlled unmanned Reaper aircraft has made its first precision bomb strike in Afghanistan.  The strike was launched Nov. 7 from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The remote pilot released two 500-pound laser-guided bombs, destroying the target and eliminating the enemy fighters, the Air Force said.  

 In this case the Reaper was operating over the Sangin region of Afghanistan on the hunt for enemy activity when the crew received a request for assistance from a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. US Soldiers were taking fire from enemy combatants, the Air Force said. The local operator provided targeting data to the pilot in Nevada and the bombs were targeted and dropped. Air Force units based in  Balad Air Base in Iraq  launch and recover the aircraft.  

The Reaper has flown 49 combat sorties since it first began operating in Afghanistan Sept. 25. It completed its first combat strike Oct. 27, when it fired a Hellfire missile over Deh Rawod, Afghanistan, neutralizing enemy combatants.

The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper is the Air Force's first hunter-killer unmanned aircraft. It is the big brother to the highly successful Predator aircraft, which General Atomics said this summer had flown over 300,000 flight hours, with over 80% of that time spent in combat.  

The company said Predator series aircraft have flown an average of 8,200 hours per month over the past six months while maintaining the highest operational readiness rates in the U.S. military aircraft inventory. The MQ-9 Reaper is twice as fast as the Predator - it has a 900-horsepower turbo-prop engine, compared to the 119-horsepower Predator engine - and can carry far more ordnance - 14 Hellfire missiles as opposed to two.  At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size - 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan - is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high - 25,000ft compared to 50,000ft - as the Predator.  According to the Air Force, the MQ-9 Reaper will employ sensors to find, fix, track and target critical emerging time sensitive targets.

The Air Force is developing the ability to operate multiple aircraft from a single ground station, in effect, multiplying the overall combat effectiveness over the battlefield.

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