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Predator combat air patrols double in one year

5/6/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- A significant milestone was reached more than two years ahead of schedule May 1 with the beginning of the 24th MQ-1 Predator combat air patrol in the war on terrorism.

This combat air patrol doubles the 24/7/365 Predator capability of last year, and is two years ahead of the Department of Defense goal of 2010 for 21 Predator combat air patrols.

Predators now supply more than 13,400 hours of full motion video to ground forces every month while conducting armed over-watch, force protection and precision air-to-surface engagements with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

"The Predator teams have just been doing unbelievable work down there (in the international zone) and in Baghdad as well," said Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq. "I think there's some path-breaking work going on here."

Sustaining one combat air patrol typically calls for four aircraft, but for surge operations, Airmen now maintain 24 continuous combat air patrols with the total fleet of 76 combat aircraft.

Predator missions are launched by crews at sites in U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility while flown by crews at various locations in the United States. This concept of operations, called remote split operations, allows greater effectiveness in supplying more full motion video directly to warfighters engaged in combat. This model of operations nearly triples sustainable combat capability by maximizing the number of available crews and aircraft engaged in combat operations in the war on terrorism.

Prior to the innovation of remote split operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force used a traditional unit-deployment model developed in the 1990s. The traditional model of rotating units through the theater limited the Air Force to committing approximately 30 percent of its Predator forces to combat. Under this remote model, the Air Force commits 85 percent of its aircraft to combat operations.

At the same time, remote split operations allow more aircraft in combat, flying the missions from the continental United States reduces the number of Americans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct these missions. This smaller forward presence reduces American exposure to enemy actions and allows the Air Force to project power without projecting vulnerability.

The Air Force acceleration of Predator capability to combat was made possible by increased production and delivery of Predator aircraft and several personnel actions, including freezing Predator assignments and reassigning pilots from other aircraft and duties to meet the growing demand for full motion video. The Air National Guard has also accelerated its Predator commitment in five states, operating six combat air patrols.

The Air Force plans to expand Predator training by standing up a second Predator training squadron and establish a Predator Weapons Instructor Course in early 2009. This action is necessary to lay the foundation to further increase and enhance joint warfighting capability.



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