No Plans to Divest Predators

The Air Force says it has “no plans” to shift its MQ-1 Predator fleet to another service when USAF’S larger MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles enter operations in greater numbers, as has been claimed in some recent press reports. In fact, service officials told the Daily Report, such claims “were inaccurate” and subsequently “retracted by the source.” This issue surfaced during a defense conference earlier this month at which a senior Office of the Secretary of Defense official said the idea was being debated in the run-up to next year’s quadrennial defense review. Under it, the Air Force would sell or lease its Predators once there are enough Reapers available to meet demands for overhead full-motion video coverage. While OSD may be considering the idea, Air Force officials said it did not originate with them. The Air Force told the Daily Report that the Joint Staff and US Strategic Command are conducting a study to determine the FMV needs of combatant commanders. Results are expected early next year and will help shape the Air Force’s future UAV force mix. The Air Force’s current plans are to operate MQ-1s through 2015. The service plans to buy its last tranche of them in Fiscal 2009, with delivery the following year. Already the Air Force has taken delivery of 185 Predator air vehicles and has 60 more on order. After factoring accidents, combat losses, and other attrition over the past 13 years of operations, the size of the current Predator fleet stands today at about 110 aircraft, the service said. It expects to have enough Predators in place to provide 31 simultaneous combat air patrols in Southwest Asia by year’s end, and is working toward a goal of 50 CAPs filled by Predators and Reapers.