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UK Reaper shown carrying new undisclosed sensor payload

Seen for the first time on imagery released by the MoD on 18 April, this UK Reaper is fitted with two cheek-mounted sensor arrays (one on each side of the aircraft). A previously classified blade antenna can also be seen fitted to the underfuselage. (Crown Copyright)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released imagery of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fitted with a previously undisclosed new payload.

Released on 18 April to coincide with a media event at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington marking 10 years of UK-based combat operations, the imagery shows a Middle East-based Reaper fitted with a check-mounted sensor array on each side of the aircraft. The image also shows a previously classified blade antenna fitted to the underfuselage.

The MoD provided no details as to the nature of either payload, although Commanding Officer 13 Squadron and Reaper Force Commander, Wing Commander Stuart McAdam, told Janes at the media event that the Reaper now has “a very comprehensive” signals intelligence (SIGINT) suite, as well as a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capability to see through weather.

In terms of the check-mounted array, the large ‘plank'-like fairing is similar in appearance (although scaled down for the Reaper) to that carried by the recently retired Raytheon Sentinel R1 SIGINT aircraft, and also the US Air Force's (USAF's) Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. The Sentinel was built around a SAR/ground moving target indicator (GMTI) to provide a ‘pattern of life' intelligence capability, and it could be that a version of this capability has been adopted for the Reaper. This particular payload has not previously been seen on a Reaper of any operator, and not just the RAF.

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