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MQ-9 Reaper vs Shahed-129 | A Comparison of Military Drones (UCAV)



HESA SHAHED-129  Iranian industry has been actively involved in development of drone aircraft for some time now – reengineering foreign types as well as evolving all-new indigenous designs with mixed levels of success. The HESA Shahed-129 series is a dual-role platform capable of reconnaissance work and attack. It was developed by the Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center of Iran with production handled by HESA (and based in the earlier “Shahed-123” which became a redesignation of the “HESA-100”). It appeared during September 2012, remains in active production and may have been procured by the Syrian government for its long-running civil war campaign begun in 2011. The Shahed-129 was debuted in mid-2012.

Externally, the Shahed-129 seems to mimic the form of foreign types like the Israeli Hermes 450 and British Watchkeeper UAVs and can be assumed to offer similar over-battlefield capabilities. A tubular fuselage is used to house the engine, fuel stores, avionics and reconnaissance-minded mission payload. A “blister” assembly housing the primary optics fit is set under the aircraft, aft of the nose section, offering unobstructed 360-degree views. The wings are shoulder-mounted along the fuselage sides and of a straight design with each supporting a single hardpoint. The hardpoints hold a twin-rail launcher to carry up to two Sadid-1 missiles each – giving the Shahed-129 a four-shot capability. The undercarriage is wheeled though fixed in place during flight (as in the American Predator). The tail is made up of two outward-canted vertical fins and the engine drives a three-bladed unit in a “pusher” configuration at rear. The air scoop is noted under the tail.

In practice, the Shahed-129 relies on a Ground Control Station (GCS) for direct-control flying but can also take on pre-set waypoint travel through autonomous flight. Range is limited by the communications technology in play but enough to provide a useful patrolling capability for the Iranian Army and Navy services. Its dual-role (reconnaissance and attack) design allows for active patrolling of a given area and direct- attack capability from a single platform. Missile attacks can focus on land-based targets (such as vehicles and fortifications) as well as sea-borne ones like enemy patrol ships – the latter crucial for maintaining control over Persian Gulf water routes. These traits are all very conventional for a UAV / UCAV of this class.

In 2016, a Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Air Force commander implied that Iran was in the process of upgrading their drone fleet in order to end its reliance on ground-based controllers towards a satellite-based system. This may be the reason for the nose bulges seen in the newer model Shahad 129s.

If claims about GPS-navigable Shahed 129s are credible, then Iran presumably has the ability to use GPS navigation in tandem with other weapons systems, namely ballistic weapons.

If true, this lessens the technological military advantage of both regional adversaries (Israel), and those of the United States. This tech could be exported to Iran’s regional allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Yemen, or indeed to Syria, where this has presumably already happened.

MORE VIDEOS Iran’s Shahed 129 UCAV

USA THE MQ-9 “REAPERUCAV  (“M” = multirole; “Q” = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle; “9” = series designation) offers the United States Air Force a high-level, remotely-piloted weapons platform capable of instant action and precise engagement. Appearing outwardly similar to the earlier Predator series of UAV’s, the Reaper is in fact a dimensionally larger offshoot featuring more power and a broadened munitions-delivery capability. The MQ-1 “Predator” (Predator A) is also a “first generation” Predator UAV, beginning life as an unarmed reconnaissance platform under the RQ-1 designation and only being armed later in its tenure (as the MQ-1). The MQ-9 “Reaper” (Predator B) became the next logical evolution in the series, from the outset conceived of as an armed reconnaissance platform with better performance capabilities within a larger airframe. The MQ-9 Reaper was introduced for service in 2007 and was set to play a major role in the United States effort on the “War on Terror” concerning Afghanistan and Iraq.

One of the more defining physical characteristics of the MQ-9 versus the MQ-1 is the outward-cranked upturned tail fins – these are downturned on the MQ-1.

The MQ-9 system is fully-portable and can break down in sections for airlifting in a Lockheed C-130 transport or similar aircraft. The basic design of the pilot-less aircraft allows for take-off and landings to occur on nearly any runaway surface.

The Reaper is capable of carrying and delivering munitions from two external hardpoints in the form of anti-tank “Hellfire” Anti-Tank (AT) missiles and GBU-12 / GBU-38 series of JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) precision-guided bombs. The platform is categorized as a “hunter/killer”, equally adept at operating in the stratosphere as a real-time reconnaissance drone and also being able to engage targets when needed. Imaging is accomplished through intensified TV, daylight TV and IR (InfraRed) sensor cameras along with an integrated laser rangefinder that doubles as a laser designator for the direct-guided JDAM munitions.

Operation of an MQ-9 Reaper is accomplished through a series of on-the-ground support vehicles and equipment stations (Ground Control Stations – GCSs). A specially-trained airman flies the Reaper via joystick control, observing the aircraft’s activity through a color nose-mounted camera and other in-flight reporting systems. At the very core of any UAV program is this ability to keep allied airmen risk-free from any hostile action over contested territories.