Previous to this software, the MQ-9 was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations.
The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron conducted the first flight of the MQ-9A Reaper carrying eight live AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, Sep. 10, 2020 reinforcing the platform’s “persistent attack” role.
As explained by 1st Lt Savanah Bray, 53rd Wing, in the article, MQ-9 Reaper takes flight with 8 Hellfire missiles, this new capability is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade set to field by the end of calendar year 2020. Previous to this software, the MQ-9 was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations. The new software allows flexibility to load the Hellfire on stations that previously were reserved for 500-pound class bombs or fuel tanks.
“The hardware/launcher is the same that we use on the outboard stations,” said Master Sgt. Melvin French, test system configuration manager. “Aside from the extra hardware required to be on hand, no other changes are required to support this new capability and added lethality. The Reaper retains its flexibility to fly 500-pound bombs on any of these stations, instead of the AGM‑114s, when mission requirements dictate.”
The new capability stems from a combined requirements process between Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command that sets the scope for each MQ-9 OFP update.
“History has proven the MQ-9’s ability to provide aerial continuity and attack support for air and ground forces during counter-insurgency and close air support,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander. “Doubling the firepower of this high-endurance aircraft with Hellfires improves the lethality and agility of the MQ-9 over many combat roles, with an arsenal of highly versatile, accurate, and collateral-friendly weapons for all combatant commanders.”
In future conflicts, MQ-9 aircrew will be required to dynamically target priority targets and defend isolated personnel, explained Chmielewski. These missions require accelerated kill chains to engage priority targets, some with fleeting engagement opportunities, and to neutralize hostile threats immediately. Added firepower increases the persistent attack ability of the MQ-9 to respond immediately across its long mission times, where it previously may have exhausted its weapons inventory and had to slow the kill chain to coordinate for additional kinetic support to engage a priority target.
Photo credit: Senior Airman Haley Stevens / U.S. Air Force