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Gizmo warfare: What is a reaper drone?

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Flicker user e_yihuang

MQ9 Reaper

— The MQ9 Reaper unmanned flying device is the source of protest for 32 individuals facing trial for disorderly conduct in Syracuse this week. On April 27, protesters participated in “die-ins,” covering their clothes in faux blood and laying unmoving at the Hancock National Guard Base to express their discomfort with the Reaper crafts operated by pilots at Hancock.

Captain Anthony Bucci of the 174th Fighter Wing takes issue with what he considers a misnomer.

“There’s a misconception that [the aircrafts] are not piloted,” Bucci said. “It’s not just autonomously flying on its own. It’s really a crew effort.”

The MQ9 is operated by an entire team. Behind each MQ9 mission is a pilot who steers the aircraft, a sensor operator who identifies targets, a team of intelligence officers, and a submission coordinator. The MQ9 performs intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and carries weapons such as laser guided missiles.

According to Bucci, the MQ9 Reaper is a much more accurate and discriminating weapon than its predecessor, the F16, which was used for similar purposes until the MQ9 took its place sometime in 2009.

The differences between the F16 and the MQ9 are significant. While the F16 could fly for just one hour before needing to refill, the MQ9 can stay in an area, collecting live intelligence for up to 18 hours.

“Staying in an area longer allows the crew to build a more complete picture to be able to see the movement in and out of vehicles and people, to be able to discern to a greater level those that are friendlys and those that are not friendlys,” Bucci said. “[MQ9s] have more connectivity to the space and to the effects than ever before, as opposed to the F16.”

Bucci said the MQ9 allows operators on the ground to have eyes over the area, trying to ensure that there is minimal collateral damage.

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