USAF to Retire the Predator UAV

The United States Air Force will stop flying the MQ-1 Reaper completely by July 2017, and use the more capable MQ-9 Reaper exclusively

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper awaits maintenance Dec. 8, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

For the past 21 years, the US Air Force has flown the MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft in combat, and for the last 10, the MQ-9 Reaper. According to the US Air Combat Command, the Air Force decided to fly the more capable MQ-9 exclusively, and retire the MQ-1 in early 2018 to keep up with the continuously evolving battlespace environment.

The MQ-9 is better equipped than the MQ-1 due to its increased speed, high-definition sensors and the ability to carry more munitions. These combat attributes allow the MQ-9 to complete a wider array of mission sets which can help the Air Force stay prepared in the fight.

While the MQ-1 and the crews who flew them proved their weapons proficiency, it was never originally designed to carry weapons, resulting in a limited 200-pound payload. The demand for more attack capabilities exceeded the MQ-1s design. The MQ-9 design picked up where the MQ-1 left off, boasting a nearly 4,000-pound payload with the ability to carry both missiles and bombs.

The Air Force will no longer have to maintain a training pipeline or equipment on two separate aircraft which also eliminates the cost of operating two different airframes. Instead, everything will be specific to an all MQ-9 force. 

Currently, the 20th Attack Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, is making the conversion from MQ-1 to MQ-9. "Right now the plan is to stop flying the MQ-1 in 2018, and that means we need to get transitioned this year," said Lt. Col. James, 20th Attack Squadron commander. "As part of that we are going to stop flying the MQ-1 completely by July 1, 2017. We will gradually stand up our number of combat lines on the MQ-9 so by the end of the year we are only an MQ-9 squadron."