Drones Join Fighter Jets in Striking Targets in Iraq


The U.S. military has turned to drones to help launch airstrikes against Islamic militants in northern Iraq.

The Defense Department acknowledged early on that aerial drones, known as remotely piloted aircraft in military speak, would be part of the effort to gather intelligence on and, if necessary, bomb militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic group that controls much of the northern part of the country.

President Obama last week cited as reasons for authorizing the airstrikes in the country the group’s advances in the northern Kurdistan region. Militants had reportedly overwhelmed Kurdish fighters and threatened to attack U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in Irbil in the northeast and Yazidi minorities on Mount Sinjar in the northwest.

On Friday, a drone officially identified as an MQ-1 Predator armed with Hellfire missiles struck a mortar position near Irbil and killed several militants. On Saturday, a mix of fighter and drone aircraft destroyed military combat vehicles, including armored personnel carriers and an armed truck. (Ironically, some of the damaged vehicles were reportedly American-made Humvees the militants had captured from Iraqi forces.)

We’re interested in learning more about how the manned and unmanned aircraft are apparently working in tandem to conduct the strikes — and where they’re based. The Navy has released photographs of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets flying from the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf to conduct operations in Iraq. But what about the drones, as well as the C-17 and C-130 cargo aircraft that airdropped food and water to the stranded civilians?

We’re also curious why the military seems to be using the MQ-1 Predator — the workhorse of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — rather than the bigger MQ-9 Reaper, which can loiter over an area for longer periods of time, carry more payload and, over the next few decades, is slated to replace the Predator in the Air Force’s drone inventory. (Perhaps all the Reapers are being used in Afghanistan?)

Both unmanned aircraft are made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., which last month unveiled an enhanced drone cockpit station for operators.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Andy

    For this kind of war, Drone still cheaper than an F16 and f18 and it can be in the air more than 24 hrs at the time….

  • jamesb

    And the Air Force finally gets into the fight, eh?

  • oblatt22

    Really is an all American show – Americans paying for the bombers the bombs and the targets too.

  • rtsy

    “We’re also curious why the military seems to be using the MQ-1 Predator — the workhorse of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — rather than the bigger MQ-9 Reaper.”

    Perhaps the generals are looking to get rid of the older model Predators by putting some extra miles on them. One of the original selling points for UAV systems was that they were essential disposable. Now that the next gen UCAVs are coming online the Predators may look like old tech.

    • xXTomcatXx

      It’s a smart move. Get as much life out of the used car you have before buying knew.

  • retired462

    For this situation: A-10’s &drones!

  • Joe

    Air power to defeat organized insurgents backed by proper nation states. Worked so well in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.

    American willful misunderstanding of getting involved in a land war in asia. Next we will be going in against sicilians where death is involved.

  • Tom

    The 4 cylinder Rotax engine on the MQ-1’s sips fuel in comparison to the turbo prop on the MQ-9 granted it takes longer and the weapon load is smaller a MQ-1 with 6 Griffin missiles is probably the lowest cost way to conduct ISR and ground attack. The only thing is I don’t know how many drones can fly within a specified geographical area before they run into bandwidth issues.

  • Lance

    Well Iraq is a friendly environment for drones and a hovering drone may be helpful fighting a lower air threat foe like ISIS. How ever if we needed to fight in Syria or the South China sea drones would be out and you have to go with manned aircraft.

  • Guest

    Correction is required for the following section
    “We’re also curious why the military seems to be using the MQ-1 Predator — the workhorse of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — rather than the bigger MQ-9 Reaper, which can loiter over an area for longer periods of time,”

    The MQ-1 has a longer endurance than the MQ-9.

  • mhpr262

    I guess the drones are used to reconnoiter and constantly scan for targets which are then taken out by the F-18s. That way the Predators can preserve their weapon load for targets of opportunity when no manned jets are available.

  • IronV

    The Predator has certain advantages over the Reaper. It can be “packaged” quickly and loaded into a C-17 or C-130 for rapid deployment anywhere necessary. Reaper’s too big for that. Not saying that’s what happened here…


    With out eyes on the ground the CAS is not very effective.

    • Tiger

      That is what you have 300+ advisers for.

  • anthony

    I agree should have been done months ago!!

  • Tom

    Didn’t the Iraqi’s receive a bunch of SU-25 Frogfoots? Why aren’t we seeing more of those in the fight?

  • Ravi

    Media’s attention has shifted to US strikes

  • guest

    “We’re interested in learning more about where they’re (drones) based.



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