The RQ-2 Pioneer is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that has been utilized by the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Army, deploying aboard ship and ashore since 1986. Initially deployed aboard battleships to provide gunnery spotting, its mission evolved into reconnaissance and surveillance, primarily for amphibious forces. It is now deployed aboard the Austin class amphibious transport dock.
It was developed jointly by the US and Israel Industries. The program grew out of successful testing and field operation of the Tadiran Mastiff UAV by the American and Israeli militaries.
An RQ-2B on the tarmac
Crewmen recover an RQ-2 Pioneer aboard USS Iowa (BB-61)
Launched by rocket assist (shipboard), by catapult, or from a runway, the Pioneer recovers into a net (shipboard) or with arresting gear after flying up to 5 hours with a 75-pound (34 kg) payload. It flies with a gimbaled EO/IR sensor, relaying analog video in real time via a C-band line-of-sight (LOS) data link. Since 1991, Pioneer has flown reconnaissance missions during the Persian Gulf, Somalia (UNOSOM II), Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq conflicts. In 2005, the Navy operated two Pioneer systems (one for training) and the Marines operated two, each with five or more aircraft. It is also operated by Israel and the Republic of Singapore Air Force. In 2007 Pioneer was retired by the U.S. Navy and was replaced by the Shadow UAV.
Internationally, Pioneer drones are perhaps most remembered for their role in the 1991 Gulf War, when a Pioneer launched by the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) observed Iraqi troops on Failaka Island surrendering shortly after Missouri’s attack on their trenchlines. When Navy officials offered to transfer a Pioneer to the Smithsonian Institution, curators at the National Air and Space Museum specifically asked for the UAV that Iraqi troops surrendered to during the Gulf War.
The 'R' is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance; 'Q' means unmanned aircraft system. The '2' refers to its being the second of a series of purpose-built unmanned reconnaissance aircraft systems.