The first Polish Reaper UAV is now in service with the Polish Air Force. It should help fill a capability gap that has become urgent with the increase in tensions in Eastern Europe. This capability gap should definitely be filled by a probable future purchase of MQ-9B UAVs.
A need for modern drones
In a tweet posted on February 12, Polish Defense Minister Marius Błaszczak announced that the first MQ-9A Reaper drone had arrived in Poland. Very little information is available about the Polish Reaper because the subject is sensitive: until 2022, the Polish Air Force (Siły Powietrzne Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) did not fly any top-tier drones. On May 22, 2021, the Ministry of Defense announced an order for 24 Bayraktar TB2s for approximately $268 million. The first six were actually received on October 28, 2022.
The Reaper now in Poland
However, the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 changed the geopolitical climate on Poland's eastern borders: instability on the border with Belarus, the war a few hundred kilometers away and finally tensions with Russia following the very important Polish support to Ukraine forced the government to increase certain capabilities of the Polish Armed Forces and especially regarding drones. The choice was made to lease MQ-9A Reaper UAVs from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI). The contract was announced on October 20, 2022 (press release of October 31), with a net value of $70.6 million. However, in light of regional tensions and the operational need of the Polish Armed Forces, the number of UAVs, their ancillary equipment, and the lease term have not been publicly disclosed.
This operational gap should be definitively solved by a future MALE UAV purchase. The spokesman for the Polish Defense Ministry's Armaments Agency had notably announced on Oct. 20 that a future MQ-9B drone procurement contract was under discussion.
In 2001, GA-ASI first flew its MQ-9A UAV. It is a redesigned and improved version of the MQ-1 Predator. The MQ-9A is officially named Reaper, but also nicknamed Predator B. This MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) drone has been somewhat improved to reach the Block 5 standard (new communication suite, multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground communication capability, longer endurance). It is used for various missions, with a carrying capacity of 1.746 tonnes, including 1.361 tonnes on the 7 external carrying points: guided bombs, anti-tank missiles, but also electronic warfare pods (ESM), electronic reconnaissance (SIGINT), etc. Its piloting is facilitated by the possibility of autonomous flight. According to General Atomics, this drone would have an operational availability of more than 90%.
Other more technical performances:
- Maximum altitude of more than 50,000 feet (or 15.240 meters)
- Maximum endurance of more than 27 hours
- Maximum speed of 240 knots (444 km/h)
- Electro-optical and infrared ball, with various options
- Triple redundancy of flight control systems, redundant flight control surfaces
- Data linkage (C-band)
The Air Force also uses the MQ-9A Reaper UAV in the number of 12 UAVs, including 6 Block 1s ported to Block 5 and 6 original Block 5s. These aircraft have been used primarily over the wide expanses of Africa.
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