With the news that the Reaper is getting a new bomb to add to its versatile arsenal, maybe it's about time to think about what else unmanned aerial vehicles can carry. There already is a push to add guided mortar rounds to UAVs, but that may just be scratching the surface.
The options, really, are as limitless as what regular planes can carry. Here are some cool things that could be dropped from a UAV.
1. Mk 54 MAKO Lightweight Hybrid Torpedoes
The United States has deployed an anti-submarine warfare UCAV before. The QH-50 Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter was deployed for a few years off smaller vessels before being retired. They were carrying weapons long before the CIA put Hellfires on Predators.
So, which UAVs would be using the Mk 54? The Navy's MQ-8 Fire Scouts come to mind, but the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-4C Triton also could do it. Seeing as both Iran and North Korea have lots of mini-subs, UAVs, with their long endurance and advanced sensor suites, could be very helpful.
USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)
2. Cluster bombs
Many of the weapons UAVs carry are precision-guided systems that are intended to reduce collateral damage as much as possible. But there are some things JDAMs and Hellfires can't do that a cluster bomb can. Since the MQ-9 Reaper already can carry 500-pound bombs, it would seem pretty easy to add something like the CBU-100 Rockeye to its arsenal.
A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions. The B-1B uses radar and inertial navigation equipment enabling aircrews to globally navigate, update mission profiles and target coordinates in-flight, and precision bomb without the need for ground-based navigation aids. (U.S. Air Force photo)
3. Iron Bombs
Along a similar vein, the Mk 82 iron bomb, which is the basis for the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition, would make sense for the MQ-9.
Ordies (in red jerseys) load 500-pounders onto Super Hornets aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (Photo: U.S. Navy)
4. Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System
This is a laser-guided 70mm Hydra rocket. When it comes to reducing collateral damage, this is probably the best system one could add to the MQ-9. Furthermore, they come in pods of seven or 19. This allows the Reaper to kill a lot more targets.
A MH-60 Seahawk fires an Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rocket. (US Navy photo).
5. GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb
Sometimes, a target can be pretty far off. In this case, the Small Diameter Bomb could not only allow a MQ-9 to hit more targets, but to do so from outside the range of many air defense systems. That helps the UAV survive a fight – which will make the accountants happy.
Staff Sgt. Randy Broome signals a jammer operator to move a Bomb Rack Unit 61 forward, while loading it onto an F-15E Strike Eagle at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on Aug. 1. The NCO is an aircraft weapons specialist with the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. | U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung