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Dow Jones Newswires September 14, 2006

US Air Force Dubs Predator B Drone The 'Reaper'

By Rebecca Christie

It's official: the killer combat drone formally known as Predator B will henceforth be dubbed the Reaper, the U.S. Air Force said Wednesday.

The Air Force so far has seven of the combat drones - officially designated the MQ-9 - in its current inventory. In 2009, the service is scheduled to decide whether it wants a full production run.

The unmanned jets are made by privately held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., which also developed the original Predator combat drone (the MQ-1). The jets can stay aloft for hours, relaying battlefield images or waiting for a target. The drones carry missiles and can shoot on command.

The newly christened Reaper is bigger than its predecessor. It is expected to take on a bigger combat role.

"The name Reaper is one of the suggestions that came from our airmen in the field. It's fitting as it captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," said Gen. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, in a statement.

"Reaper" is a popular nickname in both the military and the defense industry. For example, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (LLL) is developing a communications upgrade for intelligence-gathering airplanes that bears that name. And there are multiple other listings at GlobalSecurity.org, which maintains a vast database of military information.

But the Reaper designation may still catch on for the combat drones, since it will differentiate them from sibling systems Predator and Warrior, a Predator derivative in development for the Army.

The Army and the Air Force are studying ways to work together and streamline these drone programs, in terms of either maintenance or training. But no specific plan has emerged yet.


Copyright 2006, Dow Jones Newswires