USAF officials plan to fit the Reaper with the 250 lb SDB's, enabling it to precision strike 16 targets on 1 mission. You can compare that to the
B-2's capability (albeit with smaller ordinance) during the conflict in Kosovo.
Fine. How big a presence and performance hit are you taking? People don't seem to understand that travelling 500-700nm down range, even at 'twice
the Predators cruise speed' (say 170 knots) is a 4hr trip, each way. 8 hours out of 14 possible with a full weapons loadout equates to 6 on station
which is little better than an F-16 can do. Not least because it it will only take half the time to get there. OTOH, if you strip off the drag
inducing features of the F-16 (tails, canopies, gaping inlets, hogsnose radar, external ordnance and targeting/self protect systems) while fitting the
aircraft with a _small_ turbine from the business or lightweight fighter classes, (F124, Adour, BR710), and you can get BOTH performance levels on
HALF the installed thrust. Because while you may only achieve 12 hours on station, you will get there in 2 which means you will have TEN ON
Which is more than a pilot can do on a daily-repetitive basis.
All of which can be further extended by having /enough/ (8-10,000lb empty, 17-25,000lb loaded) mass to get behind a tanker wake and stay there while
it feeds you MORE gas. Something which the F-16 does grudgingly, depending on the engine, loadout and altitude. And the MQ-9 _never will_.
I'm reminded of Galland's famous quote-
"For the first time, I was flying by jet propulsion and there was no torque, no thrashing sound of the propeller, and my jet shot through the air.
It was as though angels were pushing."
What most don't realize is that those angels applied a mere 4,000lbf of thrust from both engines combined. On an airframe which weighed close to
16,000lbs fully loaded, that's 560mph on a mere .25:1 T/Wr.
Disadvantages of the Reaper:
It's not an F-16...
No it is not. In some ways it is better. In many ways it is worse. Yet _only because_ the baseline airframe configuration was deliberately slanted
to induce a performance deficit that could not be offset by a mere turboprop upgrade+wingspan 'scaleup' from the old Rotax 912/914 rotaries. The
proposed Predator C/D with the true turbine engine might have come closer (in fact _would have been_ superior, at altitudes above 50,000ft) but only
given you accept the equally gross penalties inherent to a 'Fighter' without LO. Something that the F-16 avoids by having an 800 knot
burner+cropped delta+smart-HARM ability to leave fights it can't win.
At the cost of perhaps 4-6 hours on a >
Seriously though, the Reaper is not very fast at all flying somewhere around 170 knots.
But if you want 'serious' hang time in a jet, you do it by throttling back in the _90%_ of the mission which is longrange penetration on minimum
tanker drag, NTISR vultching of ground assets and traffic arteries, even CAS or FAC-A driven towards ground force overwatch. THAT is the real joke
here. Not that speed is important in the 'fighter mission' (as a fraction of how fast you get there vs. how long you stay) but how rarely that
mission is flown to it's full extent /because it can't be/ if the pilot expects to come home or indeed accomplish _any other_ facet of the 'multi
role experience' that is his real job. In this, lighting that burner or yanking that stick is an admission of failure. Of having already been
bested by something unexpected. Particularly on the wrong end of a long-radius strike mission.
LO gives you basic security from long range shots in the Favorit class. It doesn't secure you from a sniper-at-feet threat but as a function of
initial cruise speed in a low T/Wr on a clean airframe turbine power at least ensures _equal chance_ at 'evading downwards' as the non-LO platform
provides by (mission kill) dumping gas and stores to get back full G capability.
Also, even with Sidewinders, do you really expect the Reaper to have any survivability in an A2A situation?
Sure. If you fit it with AIM-120D or AIM-160 and use _their_ range extension to fly the missile past the point at which external carriage overcomes a
natively lower frontal signature. Say 25-35nm downrange using shooter-illuminator handing from an F-22 (or RQ-4) ADAAM fire control source.
Does a lack of MQ-9 maneuverability mean that the F-22 wouldn't have to be there if the platform was an F-16? No. The Raptor would be assigned
based on the _theater perception_ of an air threat, not whether either the drone or the F-jet could 'handle the problem' by interrupting their
primary mission. That's the basis of mission specialization and hi/lo force modeling: delegation of taskings.
Similarly, does a lack of MQ-9 maneuverability mean that the fight is any more likely to proceed to the distance at which the Sidewinder (and a
maneuvering fight) becomes probabilistically determinative? No. Because if the threat can see the drone at the same distance it sees an F-16, it is
going to go with the longest lance available /simply because/ it is aware of the NCW threat and the potential for an F-22 that it does not and indeed
_cannot_ see as either director or hunter.
A different way to come at matters for a TRUE UCAV is to instead think this way: Put an F-117 up against an F-16 with all target allocation handled
offboard and the Blackjet driver ONLY required to point his jet in the right general direction and give trigger consent as everything else comes in
via L16. If BVR is 70% of the game and the AIM-120D has an SSPK of .8 against an 'unaware, RNE, target'; _and the F-117 can get to that RNE without
being detected while the F-16 cannot_, firing 2 of those weapons from a stealth enclosure, in-envelope, should result in a 140% kill probability.
Now pull the pilot so that the '30%' wherein the missile mechanically fails and/or a surviving wingman presses to visual rather than extend and
And a TRUE UCAV becomes a very viable.
As a 450-500 knot, all-aspect LO, platform. Because, like the F-117, it has the basic performance to extend neutrally and try to escape. Because,
unlike the 117, it will probably risk a two-into-two solution, even if both subsequently miss. And also unlike the 117, it is one of 1,000 other
manufactured jets of which at least 1 'on this mission' other will likely /also/ be configured for longrange A2A. Even as the sheer number of
aircraft also ups the likelihood of the force receiving direct escort from dedicated A2A platforms.
While you are clearly baiting the conversation, it is YOU who are being suckered here.
First by overweighting the relevance of A2A combat. Then by assuming that there are no other platforms around to do the mission if the UCAV is unable
to. And finally by allowing the USAF to set the WWI airframe configuration by which a robotic platforms ability to survive A2A is fixed to an
existing, faulted, design.
Rather than one which, through simple optimization for the STRIKE role, is equally made better as an air to air missile carrier.
How likely is all of this?
As likely as it takes to get a new president into office and 'change their minds'. J-UCAS was the chance to tilt the world on it's ear. Both by
program economics and massive force structure changes (shared squadrons in the naval and air services means a _common not joint_ basing mode
capability to flex-up to a larger warfighting mode than you deploy with in peace).
And the USAF cancelled it as soon as they could 'to pay for Iraq'. And to preserve the 276 billion dollar farce that is their One Ring Precious