The Air Force's latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper flew its first successful combat mission on June 23, according to the service.
The Block 5 variant of the unmanned aerial vehicle flew a sortie of more than 16 hours in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to an Air Force news release.
The MQ-9 Reaper flew the mission with a full payload of weapons ranging from Joint Direct Attack Munitions to Hellfire missiles.
The aircrew from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada employed three strikes — one Joint Direct Attack Munition and two Hellfire missiles — that destroyed two defensive fighting positions, two vehicles and a mortar tube, the release said.
Creech Air Force Base received the newest version of the Reaper in late February, and additional modifications were completed in April. The Reapers were flown locally in May for further testing before being shipped to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
The Air Force has flown the MQ-9 Reaper for the past 10 years, but the Block 5 variant offers improved electrical and communications systems. The service has said that the MQ-9 is better equipped than the MQ-1 Predator, which will be retired in early 2018, because of its increased speed, high-definition sensors and ability to carry more munitions.
The Predator has been in use for the past 21 years, but the service will exclusively use the Reaper by next summer.
In the past, RPAs were mostly used for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, but current threats require more precise close-air support. The MQ-1 wasn't originally designed to carry weapons, which resulted in a 200-pound payload. The MQ-9, however, boasts a nearly 4,000-pound payload.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.