This new capability is a significant departure from the use of unmanned platforms purely for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations, as the MQ-9 can carry, and deliver with precision, advanced high explosive weapons such as laser-guided bombs and missiles.
This new combat capability is in line with the multi-role strategy applied to newer combat aircraft such as the EA-18G Growler, which can disrupt enemy ground threats through jamming and other electronic warfare tactics, but also strike the target with air to ground weapons if required.
Similarly, the MQ-9 has the ability to carry out ISR, with persistent time on station, but also to deliver munitions on target if tasked. The MQ-9 when operational will provide a quantum leap in firepower over unarmed platforms such as the MQ-4C Triton high altitude, long endurance UAV to be acquired by Defence.
The MQ-9 has been used by the US Air Force, with great combat effect, in the Middle East area of operations, striking targets with precision guided weapons – remotely piloted from ground stations as far away as continental United States.
Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne said the medium altitude long endurance aircraft can be integrated within the Australian Defence Force and would be fully interoperable with our allies.
“These new aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions,” Minister Pyne said.
“Medium altitude, long endurance, remotely piloted aircraft have a far greater range than smaller remotely piloted aircraft and can continuously observe an area of interest for much longer than manned reconnaissance aircraft.”
The aircraft will be used to watch and protect ADF and coalition land forces, and provide reconnaissance support for search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
“Remotely piloted aircraft allow military commanders to make more informed decisions faster while providing the option to conduct strike and reconnaissance operations without risking the safety of aircrew.”
“The aircraft will be operated under the same laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and rules of engagement as manned aircraft”, Minister Pyne said.
Image: An MQ-9 ‘Reaper’ UAV fires a Hellfire air-to-ground missile, also carrying laser-guided bombs. (US Air Force)