Air Force To Retire The Iconic Predator Drone
The Air Force plans to retire the MQ-1 Predator drone next year, one of the most effective surgical-strike platforms responsible for neutralizing many a terrorist in its more than two decades of service.
Remaining Predators will be phased out and replaced with the MQ-9 Reaper, which has been in service for the last 10 years. While the original Predator was never originally designed to carry weapons, it’s iconic design and use against high-value targets made it almost synonymous with drone warfare. The newer Reaper can fly faster, carry more munitions and has a more advanced sensor suite than its progenitor.
“In the case of the MQ-1, I think we wanted more out of it, but we were at a physical stop on the airplane and needed a new one,” Air Force Col. Joseph told Air Force Senior Airman Christian Clausen. Joseph’s last name was not published for security reasons.
Because the Reaper can only carry a 200-pound payload, or two Hellfire missiles, it was limited in its ability to provide close air support missions. The MQ-9 boasts an impressive 4,000-pound payload, offering plenty of ordnance to go around.
The Air Force began flying the Predator in 1996. It started its career as the RQ-1, the “R” standing for reconnaissance, the “Q” since it is a remotely piloted system and “1” because it is the first of its kind. Its designation switched to MQ-1 (the “M” standing for multi-role) in 2002, when it was first armed with Hellfire missiles. While the Predator is capable of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and close air support, the addition of the missiles made it famous as a terrorist hunter in the skies of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia, to name a few.
Predator and Reaper drone strikes increased drastically during the Obama administration. The Predator platform logged more than 1 million hours of development, test, training and combat in August, 2011, alone.
Since then, the Predator has become a recognizable pop culture icon. It has been featured in books, television shows, and films. The movie “Eye in the Sky” completely centers on the decision-making process behind a single drone strike, though it is unclear whether it featured a Reaper or Predator. The iconic drone is even present on social media, the Drunk Predator Drone Twitter account has more than 21,500 followers.
The Predator has put up impressive numbers, despite the fact it was never supposed to do all it did. Air Force Lt. Col. James, whose last name was also withheld for security reasons, noted that it will serve as an example going forward.
“The MQ-1 is a great example where the Air Force took a technology demonstrator and turned it into a major weapons system having daily effects on the battlefield,” James told Clausen. “We have found how to fly an imperfect weapons system very well, and I think we have maximized the effectiveness that we can get out of the MQ-1. I have no doubt that we will continue to find ways to be more effective in combat with the MQ-9.”
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