Missile Off the Rail: MQ-9 Reaper Claims the First Air-to-Air Kill for a Drone Ever

Monday, 24 September 2018 - 12:30PM
Military Tech
Monday, 24 September 2018 - 12:30PM
Missile Off the Rail: MQ-9 Reaper Claims the First Air-to-Air Kill for a Drone Ever
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Image credit: Outer Places adapted from US Air Force and Pixabay
Last April, a dogfighting AI pulled off the first kill on a human fighter pilot in a simulation (and boy, was it a shutdown), but now we have another major milestone for air combat: the first air-to-air kill made by a drone. That distinction goes to the MQ-9 Reaper, which recently shot down another drone in a training exercise in Nevada, most likely with a Stinger missile. Part of the reason this is such a big deal is because air-to-air combat was previously dominated by humans sitting in fighter aircraft, like the F-14. Now, a new era is dawning where the skies belong to the drones (who, rest assured, are still operated by humans).

The news comes from Military.com, who recently interviewed Julian Cheater, an official at Creech Air Force Base. "Something that's unclassified but not well known, we recently in November … launched an air-to-air missile against a maneuvering target that scored a direct hit. It was an MQ-9 versus a drone with a heat-seeking air-to-air missile, and it was direct hit…during a test."

The MQ-9 Reaper is the successor to the well-known Predator, which could only carry a small payload of missiles. As far as murderous aircraft go, the Reaper is much more robust: it can carry "four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and two 500-pound laser or GPS-guided bombs," and can travel extremely long distances, according to Cheater. "We can fly from one continent to the next," he said during the interview. "We [recently] flew nine [Reapers] from one operating area to another, and that is agile, that is flexible, and it provides options to the combatant commander."

The US already operates about 100 Reapers across its various agencies and has fielded them across the world for recon missions and air strikes. Looks like they're about to get even more popular.

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