The Air Force will retire the MQ-1 Predator fleet in 2018, consolidating to the MQ-9 Reaper for remotely piloted armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. “Today, MQ-1s and MQ-9s have collectively flown 2.4 million hours and currently the Air Force is flying 61 combat sorties per day in support of combat operations worldwide,” MQ-9 Branch Chief Maj. Jason Willey said, speaking at ASC15 on Monday. MQ-1s have been the “bedrock of the Air Force medium-altitude RPA program” since going into combat in 1995 over the Balkans, he said. “Retirement does not mean scaling back, however, as we are currently in the process of transitioning MQ-1 sorties to an all MQ-9 force by 2018,” Willey explained. The Air Force is developing and testing extended endurance versions of the Reaper and is evaluating automatic takeoff and landing systems since “the MQ-9 program is expected to operate for at least the next 20 years,” he said.
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.