President Barack Obama today requested a healthyincrease in the number of MQ-9 Reaper drones that the Pentagon will purchase next year, further reversing the brief trend in fewer drone purchases. The numbers show that the Reaper is becoming the military’s favorite weapon in its fight against ISIS. But some experts say that the modest bump won’t be enough to fix the military’s much bigger drone problem—a growing deficit of drone pilots.
The Reaper, as a machine, is very similar to the famous Predator drone, which the Air Force essentially stopped buying in fiscal 2015. Both the Predator and the Reaper are made by General Atomics and look a lot alike. The difference is a matter of size and, thus, carrying capacity.
The Reaper, with a wingspan of 66 feet and a length of 36 feet—compared to a 55 foot wingspan and a length of 28 feet for the Predator—can carry two 500-pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs (bombs), and as many as four Hellfire missiles. The Predator can carry two missiles and no bombs. Like the Predator, the Reaper carries a lot of electronic targeting equipment such as the Raytheon AN/DAS-1 multi-spectral targeting system and various other cameras. It also has a variety of radar packages that the Predator doesn’t.