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New Tests Prove How Fearsome the MQ-9 Reaper Drone Really Is

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014.The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. John Bainter)

Here Comes the MQ-9: The U.S. Air Force recently put one of its most important aircraft through a series of tests in the Indo-Pacific as it prepares for a potential conflict with China.

A Plethora of Tests for the MQ-9 Reaper 

The U.S. military recently held the Valiant Shield 22 Exercise in the Indo-Pacific, with several maritime and air units participating.

During the exercise, the primary focus of the MQ-9 Reaper operational test team was to test the unmanned aerial system in Agile Combat Employment (ACE)—which is the ability to quickly forward-deploy throughout an area of operations with little or no notice in order to conduct operations against a near-peer adversary.

“The ability for the plane to land itself lost-link was validated upon initial arrival to Andersen AFB with the crew on the RAMTS passively monitoring. Throughout the exercise, the RAMTS was the only equipment used to generate all sorties. No traditional Launch and Recovery equipment was used,” Lieutenant Col. Michael Chmielewski, the commanding officer of the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, said in a press release.

An additional objective of the MQ-9 Reaper operational test team was to test the drone’s utility in the “Killchain acceleration effort” that the Pentagon has been testing recently. The accelerated Killchain aims to integrate a variety of platforms and weapon systems together in order to take out targets more quickly and efficiently. Mastery of this “any-sensor, any-shooter” concept will prove crucial in a potential conflict with a near-peer adversary with advanced combat capabilities, such as China.

“The ESM pod and integration with a C2 Common Operating Picture are emerging capabilities that were assessed for MQ-9 utility in Valiant Shield. The ESM pod proved its ability to give the MQ-9 an all-weather, long-range sensor capable of finding, fixing, and tracking targets of interest to enhance situational awareness and provide actionable targeting solutions as part of the Joint killchain,” Col. Chmielewski added.

Moreover, the MQ-9 Reaper operational test team tested the maritime capabilities of the unmanned aerial system, the long-range firing capabilities of the MQ-9 Reaper combined with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, and the capabilities of the Electronic Support Measures (ESM) pod that is designed to allow the unmanned aerial system to operate in contested electronic warfare environment.

“Future capabilities, with continued development, show promise for automated features on the leading edge that will feed the battlespace picture, accelerate the killchain, and increase the targeting process lethality,” Col. Chmielewski stated.


A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper, assigned to the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, armed with four GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition, parks on a flightline before a mission on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2018. The 62nd ERS provides close air support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in Afghanistan.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Paul Labbe)

A Hot Theater

Lately, the Indo-Pacific has been raging hot. The visit of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan angered China on an almost unprecedented level. Beijing sent warships and aircraft very close to Taiwan and conducted live-fire exercises all around the small island nation.

“The first-ever landing and departure of an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle sends a clear message about our ability to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. USINDOPACOM’s Valiant Shield 2022 exercise was a huge success, demonstrating America’s commitment and capability to defend Palau,” Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland, the U.S. ambassador to Palau, stated.

Expert Biography and Realworld Experience: 1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.