The Air Force is asking Congress for $216 million in CY 2010 Overseas Contingency Operations funds to purchase 12 MQ-9 Reaper drones to replace Predators that have been lost in combat.
That seems like an awful lot of Predator/Reapers falling out of the sky for either mechanical or hostile fire reasons, and I'd be interested for DT readers to help track down the incidents if they've been reported. The loss rate brings up an interesting point about the entire idea of UAV use in highly sensitive strikes: better to lose 12 planes that cost about $12 million each (according to USAF budget materials, and that's excluding support equipment) and are flown from a container outside Las Vegas than to lose almost a squadron of attack pilots and their planes in one year.
But I'm also worried about the idea that these downed MQ-9s are falling into enemy hands and could be reverse engineered for countermeasures, etc. We already heard of incidents where the bad guys are tapping into UAV comm links -- God forbid they're tinkering with the sensors and pinging the Norks or China on how to counteract them. Might be far fetched, but worth thinking about.
Here are the specs for the Reaper the USAF wants to buy:
The MQ-9 Reaper aircraft is a single-engine, turbo-prop remotely piloted aircraft designed to operate over-the-horizon at medium-to-high altitude for long endurance sorties. The aircraft is being designed primarily to prosecute critical emerging Time-Sensitive-Targets (TSTs) as a radar, EO/IR, and laser desginator-based attack asset with on-board hard-kill capability (hunter-killer) while performing Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Target Acquisition (ISR TA). In the hunter-killer role, the aircraft will employ fused multi-spectral sensors to automatically find, fix, and track ground targets (Automatic Target Cueing (ATC), Target Location Accuracy(TLA), Metric Sensor and other capabilities) and assess post-strike results.
Also, as if the JTAC/CCT community couldn't get any more high speed, the Air Force is asking for $3.2 million to purchase 11 WASP micro air vehicles -- those wicked little Aeorvironment throwable drones that peek over the next ridge. The Air Force says the drones will allow:
Battlefield Airmen to rapidly adapt to the dynamic war fighting environment of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The system provides increased situational awareness in a combat environment, enables ground-based Battlefield Airmen to find and track time-critical targets, and provide bomb damage assessment and force protection for forward-deployed troops.So cool...