The USAF has committed to phase out its remaining MQ-1 Predator unmanned systems by the northern summer of this year, in favour of consolidating its UAS fleet around the larger turboprop-powered MQ-9 Reaper system.
It says the Reaper is able to fly higher and faster and carry a greater weapons or sensor load than the smaller Predator.
The latest Block 5 version of the Reaper can carry a payload of up to 4,000lbs comprising six weapons plus sensors on a 16-hour sortie, much greater than the piston-engined MQ-1’s 200lb payload of just two Hellfire missiles.
The original RQ-1A Predator entered service in 1995, making its combat debut flying ISR missions over the Balkans that year. The armed MQ-1 entered service in late 2001 and has been continuously deployed ever since. A total of 360 RQ-1/MQ-1s have been built.