The U.S Air Force 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron have conducted the first flight of the MQ-9A Reaper carrying eight live AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
The U.S. Air Force say that 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 in a U.S. Air Force news release.
“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, according to the U.S. Air Force.
“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”
While the United Kingdom also operate this aircraft, it is unlikely that the UK will opt for this upgrade as it begins to replace its Reaper fleet with Protector.