The UK controlled Skynet 5C satellite was launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana yesterday. It’s purpose is to allow various parts of the military to increase data transmission rates and pass two 2.5 times the current amount of data between command centers worldwide. One of the things utilizing these comlinks is the Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, which reportedly has- and is being used in combat against enemy targets.
According to the BBC article on the launch, the Skynet 5C satellite adds data transmission potential. At least judging by the comments of an officer in the military who says “So, computers can talk directly to computers, as well giving us pictures and real-time video images.” [sic]
The MQ-9 Reaper is the successor of the MQ-1 Predator system, a UAV (and aerial support system) that has reportedly been used in Iraq for reconnaissance and killing with its onboard missiles.
The crew for the MQ-9 is a pilot and a sensor operator, who operate the aircraft from a remotely located GCS. To meet combatant commanders’ requirements, the MQ-9 delivers tailored capabilities using mission kits that may contain various weapons and sensor payload combinations.
The MQ-9 baseline system has a robust sensor suite for targeting. Imagery is provided by an infrared sensor, a color/monochrome daylight TV and an image-intensified TV. The video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused with the IR sensor video. The laser rangefinder/designator provides the capability to precisely designate targets for laser-guided munitions. Synthetic aperture radar will enable Joint Direct Attack Munitions targeting. The aircraft is also equipped with a color nose camera, generally used by the pilot for flight control.
Each MQ-9 aircraft can be disassembled into main components and loaded into a container for air deployment worldwide in Air Force airlift assets such as the C-130. The MQ-9 air vehicle operates from standard U.S. airfields. [Af.mil]
The Skynet project is the most expensive space project in the history of the UK according to BBC News, carrying the cost of £3.6b. This goes to further exemplify how we are moving into an automated, information|communication age of warfare. Perhaps an even more potent example of that is the brewing idea that the US should command and control Af.mil botnets.
You can read more and view a short introductory video of the MQ-9 system operation and use in the BBC news article. The video also shows a recording of a missile attack on someone on a motorcycle and reports that the Reaper is frequently used in assaults on enemy targets.