The MQ-9 Reaper is proving itself to be the workhorse drone of the Air Force, especially in combat zones like Afghanistan.
As the service slowly begins to phase out its MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, the larger, more lethal MQ-9 is stepping up its missions, according to recent statistics provided to Military.com
Since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon’s name for operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the MQ-9 has conducted “approximately 1,800 strikes, employing approximately 3,400 weapons,” said Capt. Jose Davis, spokesman for Air Forces Central Command.
Since strikes against the Islamic State began Aug. 8, 2014, the Predator has launched about the same number of strikes, some 1,800 strikes, employing around 3,100 weapons, Davis said.
But in Afghanistan, a different story:
When missions turned over from Operation Enduring Freedom to the NATO-led Resolute Support, the MQ-9’s missions increased tenfold in comparison to its drone counterpart, the numbers show.
As of Jan. 1, 2015, the Reaper has done 950 strikes, shooting off approximately 1,500 weapons, Davis said. The MQ-1 has only done 35 strikes, employing roughly 30 weapons.
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The MQ-1 can carry two AGM-114 Hellfires; the MQ-9 by comparison has a payload of 3,750 pounds, and carries a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, according to the Air Force.
The Air Force has said its MQ-1 operations are changing, given that the aircraft — which has proved itself as a strike and surveillance platform especially early in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — will retire in 2018.
“It’s in the process, Air Force-wide. We’re just going to continue to see less MQ-1 lines and more MQ-9,” said Lt. Col. Jason, commander of the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron.
Military.com spoke with the commander and a pilot with the squadron, part of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, on a recent trip to the Middle East. The Air Force requested last names not be used due to safety concerns amid ongoing air operations against ISIS.
Jason said he’s seen the value of both platforms.
“There’s a high demand not only for the persistent reconnaissance that we bring, but the persistent attack piece as far as weapons deployment,” Jason said. “We can identify targets for other strike platforms.”
That and, the MQ-1 and MQ-9 medium-altitude unmanned aircraft — both made by General Atomics — represent the “largest major weapons system the Air Force has right now,” Air Combat Command officials told Military.com in October.
At least for now.