Few years have passed since we first heard about the Predator drones used by the Air Force and other organizations, yet it's already time to begin waving goodbye to the outrageously expensive aircraft as their more dangerous replacements take over.
The Predator drones haven't been without troubles—you may recall that the $4.5 million drones' surveillance feeds could be intercepted and that there were some lawsuits—but they did what they were designed for well and then some. You see, the aircraft were originally intended to be completely unarmed, but handled being equipped with Hellfire missiles just fine and were used in many successful missions.
No matter whether the Predators have served the Air Force well so far or not, the organization has decided to stop purchasing any more of them and instead focus on the intentionally well-armed Reaper drones instead:
Unlike the Predator, the Reaper is no accidental warrior. Also built by General Atomics, it flies twice as fast (150-170 knots cruising, 260 max), at higher altitudes (around 50,000 feet), and carries ten times the payload (over 2 tons) as the Predator. That allows it to strap on the AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, as well as GBU-12 and GBU-38 precision bombs. And as a surveillance aircraft, it's got more electrical power than the Predator, which means "[The Air Force] can integrate new or improved sensors on the aircraft."
The Reapers have been in use since about 2007 and are now being gradually phased in as the Predators are being phased out. The entire process will probably take quite some time, but it's definitely yet another quiet changing of the guard in the drone program.
Of course, we can expect a repeat of the same process in the not-too-far future as the Reaper drones will eventually be replaced by the faster, stealthier Avenger aircraft. [Wired]
Photo: U.S. Air Force