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The US Air Force (USAF) scored the first air-to-air kill for the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during trials late last year, the service disclosed on 19 September.

The successful test late last year showed the U.S. Air Force that an unmanned vehicle like the MQ-9 has the ability to conduct air-to-air combat, much like its manned fighter brethren such as an F-15 Eagle or F-22 Raptor, according to Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

During the test in November 2017 a Reaper shot down a manoeuvring small UAV using “a heat-seeking missile”, quoted Cheater, as saying. While the report did not disclose the type of missile used, an image supposedly of the Reaper in question shows it to be carrying a single Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile under its port wing.

“Something that's unclassified but not well known, we recently in November … launched an air-to-air missile against a manoeuvring target that scored a direct hit,” Cheater said.

The effort is key to preparing for the next big aerial war against near-peer threats such as Russia or China, who are advancing their skill sets not only in unmanned aerial vehicles but also in hypersonics, electronic warfare, lasers and missile testing, Cheater said.

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