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Air Force on track to retire Predator drones by 2018

September 16, 2016 (Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)
The Air Force announced recently that its last squadron operating MQ-1 Predators has launched its first MQ-9 Reaper, the Predator’s larger and more capable cousin.

“Maintainers assigned to the 432d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Tiger Aircraft Maintenance Unit, launched their first-ever MQ-9 Reaper Aug. 25, 2016,” the Air Force release stated. “Tiger AMU is the last active duty squadron maintaining the MQ-1 Predator and has started transitioning to the MQ-9 Reaper to meet current and future warfighter requirements.”

The Air Force had set a date of 2018 to officially retire its fleet of Predators and replace them with an all Reaper fleet, and is still on track to meet MQ-1 retirement by 2018, an Air Force spokeswoman told C4SIRNET in an email.

Additionally, they said there are four active duty and three Air National Guard MQ-1 squadrons operating in combat with two active duty squadrons conducting MQ-1 training for a total of nine squadrons supporting MQ-1 operations.

According to Air Force budget documents released in February 2016, at the time the force reported an inventory of 110 Predators for both fiscal 2016 enacted and fiscal 2017 Bipartisan Budget Act with 228 and 225 Reapers for the same respective categories.

“The MQ-9 is the latest and greatest. We will continue to invest in it because of the greater capabilities that it brings to the fight,” said Lt. Col. Mackenzie, 432nd AMXS commander.

“I’m excited to transition away from the MQ-1 because it’s more of a dinosaur compared to the MQ-9,” said Staff Sgt. Eric, MQ-9 dedicated crew chief with the 432d AMXS. “On an MQ-9 the payload is bigger, it’s easier to work on, and it’s more reliable and resilient.”

The larger MQ-9 has a significantly larger payload capacity compared to the MQ-1 carrying a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions as opposed to the MQ-1’s two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles leading the Air Force to assert “[t]he demand for the MQ-9’s increased payload and enhanced capabilities was made apparent in recent years as mission sets adapted to meet combatant commanders’ objectives.”
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