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MQ-9 Reaper enhances Air Force capabilities in Iraq

7/22/2008 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFPN) -- The Air Force flew its first operational MQ-9 Reaper mission from here July 18, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The integration of the Reaper into theater-flight operations significantly enhances the strike and close-air-support capabilities of airpower forces in Iraq. The Reaper has a unique combination of long loiter times and large payloads, integrating and synchronizing with other air assets in the complex battlespace facing commanders.

"The Reaper gives the joint warfighting tremendous airpower to bear on hostile forces who do not want the mission we share with the government in Iraq to succeed," said Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, the Combined Force Air Component commander.

"Our experience with the Predator has already proven the intelligence value of the persistent stare -- the ability to keep a target in your sights for multiple hours at a time," General North said.

"The Reaper, as a close-air-support asset, expands beyond the concept of persistent stare to one of persistent strike. If the ground commander wants us to strike an enemy target, we can do that with precision weapons from the Reaper at the exact point where the ground commander wants a desired effect. It's an incredibly powerful and flexible capability for the warfighting commander."

U.S. Air Force Central's Combined Air and Space Operations Center will continue to plan and execute Reaper sorties in Iraq based on the desired effects forwarded from ground commanders.

The Reaper's powerful targeting pod is fully integrated into the existing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance architecture employed by the smaller MQ-1 Predator. Like the Predator, Reapers are primarily flown via satellite from the U.S.

Since its arrival in the U.S. Central Command theater in September 2007, flying sorties in Afghanistan, the Reaper has flown approximately 480 sorties, totally more than 3,800 hours. It has provided armed overwatch over Afghanistan and lethal strike capabilities, while minimizing collateral damage risks to friendly forces and civilian populations.

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