Military commanders use tactics and strategy in combat to inflict as much damage on the enemy while trying to risk as few personnel and resources as possible. This principle was at the heart of the development of the RQ-1 and MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
These high-tech aircraft, controlled by a crew miles away from the dangers of combat, are capable of reconnaissance, combat and support roles in the hairiest of battles. In a worst-case scenario, if a Predator is lost in battle, military personal can simply "crack another one out of the box" and have it up in the air shortly -- and that's without the trauma of casualties or prisoners normally associated with an aircraft going down.
In May 1998 General Atomics was awarded a Block 1 Upgrade contract to expand the capabilities of the Predator system. System upgrades include development of an improved Relief-On-Station (ROS) system which allows continuous coverage over areas of interest without any loss of time on station, secure air traffic control voice relay, Ku-band satellite tuning and implementation of an Air Force Mission Support System (AFMSS).
The upgrade also covers a more powerful turbocharged engine and wing de-icing systems to enable year-round operations. The upgraded Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer, has been operational in the Balkans since April 2001. In March 2005, the USAF awarded a further contract for the System Design & Development (SDD) of MQ-9. 15 MQ-9 have been ordered and eight delivered to the USAF. A decision on full-rate production is expected in 2009.
The Predator B has an operational ceiling of 50,000ft and maximum internal payload of 800lb and external payload over 3,000lb. Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper hunter/killer) has been flight tested with Hellfire II anti-armour missiles and can carry up to 14 missiles. The MQ-9 will also be able to deploy the GBU-12 and EGBU-12 bombs and 500lb GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition). MQ-9 flight trials have also taken place with the General Atomics Lynx SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) payload. Lynx also features ground moving target indicator technology. The Predator is to be flight tested with a L-3 Communications Tactical Common Datalink (TCDL).
The UAV ground control station is built into a single 30ft trailer, containing pilot and payload operator consoles, three Boeing data exploitation and mission planning consoles and two synthetic aperture radar workstations together with satellite and line-of-sight ground data terminals. The mission can be controlled through line-of-site data links or through Ku-band satellite links to produce continuous video.
The USAF has also ordered two versions of Predator B with turbofan jet engines, to be known as Predator C. First flight of the Predator C is expected in early 2007.
I bet it would be really cool to fly one of these! It couldn't be any tougher than the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator game, right? I'm waiting for a civilian model that can be flown from your home computer!
If you think this is cool... just wait until you see the Predator's little brother, the Dominator (which is smaller, more expendable, and travels in groups of 100) and the concept for the new UCAV!