Predator Passes 1 Million Flight Hours
Posted: 05/06/2010 4:14:00 PM EDT
On the 6th April, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA ASI) announced that its Predator series UAS had reached one million flight hours. The milestone has included just under 80,000 missions, with over 85 percent of all missions flown in combat.
Over 400 aircraft have been produced since the first Predator UAS took flight in 1994, including Predator A, I-GNAT ER/Sky Warrior Alpha, Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper, Sky Warrior, and Predator C Avenger, among others.
Predator-series flight hours have seen tremendous growth in recent years, with annual totals increasing from 80,000 hours in 2006 to 295,000 hours in 2009.
The aircraft are currently logging nearly 30,000 flight hours each month supporting U.S. and coalition forces in combat and with homeland security requirements. GA-ASI is currently building eight Predator-series UAS and seven ground control stations (GCS) per month, with the capacity to double production if needed.
Lt Col Chris Gough, from the 432nd Expeditionary Wing USAF gave an MQ-1 Predator/MQ-9 Reaper Mission Brief at the Defence IQ Air Surveillance and Reconnaissance conference in March 2010, in London.
There are currently 41 CAPS (Combat Air Patrols) in-theatre–28 Predator and 13 Reaper– 11in Iraq and 30 in Afghanistan. This is planned to increase to 65 CAPS by September 2013 (34 Predator, 31 Reaper).
The Predator CAP has a 22-24 hour endurance and the Reaper, 15-17 hours. The Predator carries 1-2 Hellfire missiles, whereas the Reaper carries two bombs and two-four Hellfires.
As a comparison, maintaining the U.S. Air Force F-16 fleet in theatre costs the Air Force $10m per day, whereas the Predator/Reaper fleet costs only $450k per day. The UAS is also considered the best weapon system for minimizing collateral damage.
However, operations have been costly in terms of aircraft lost. As of April 2009, the USAF admitted the loss of 65 of the 195 Predators it had procured, or exactly one third.
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