The MQ-1B Armed Predator is a variant of the RQ-1 Predator that was modified to be able to accomplish a ground attack role as well as reconnaissance. The Air Force plans to retire the MQ-1 early in 2018, to keep up with the continuously evolving battlespace environment. The MQ-9 is better equipped than the MQ-1 due to its increased speed, high-definition sensors and the ability to carry more munitions. These combat attributes allow the MQ-9 to complete a wider array of mission sets, which can help the Air Force stay prepared in the fight.
While the MQ-1 and the crews who flew them proved their weapons proficiency, it was never originally designed to carry weapons, resulting in a limited 200-pound payload. The demand for more attack capabilities exceeded the MQ-1ís design. The fresh MQ-9 design picked up where the MQ-1 left off, boasting a nearly 4,000-pound payload and the ability to carry missiles and bombs.
The versatility of both the MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and Special Operations Forces illustrates the importance of developing and maintaining collective knowledge, technological relevance, and doctrinal adaptability in the GWOT environment. The "M" is the Department of Defense designation for multi-role and "Q" means unmanned aircraft system. The "1" refers to the aircraft being the first of a series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems.
The Predator system was designed in response to a Department of Defense requirement to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to the warfighter. In April 1996, the secretary of defense selected the US Air Force as the operating service for the RQ-1 Predator system. A change in designation from "RQ-1" to "MQ-1" occurred in 2002 with the addition of the armed reconnaissance role.
The MQ-1 Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft. The MQ-1's primary mission is interdiction and conducting armed reconnaissance against critical, perishable targets. When the MQ-1 is not actively pursuing its primary mission, it acts as the Joint Forces Air Component Commander-owned theater asset for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of the Joint Forces commander.
The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. A fully operational system consists of four aircraft (with sensors), a ground control station, a Predator Primary Satellite Link, and approximately 55 personnel for deployed 24-hour operations. The basic crew for the Predator is one pilot and two sensor operators. They fly the aircraft from inside the ground control station via a line-of-sight data link or a satellite data link for beyond line-of-sight flight. The aircraft is equipped with a color nose camera (generally used by the pilot for flight control), a day variable-aperture TV camera, a variable-aperture infrared camera (for low light/night), and a synthetic aperture radar for looking through smoke, clouds or haze. The cameras produce full motion video while the SAR produces still frame radar images.
The MQ-1 Predator carries the Multi-spectral Targeting System with inherent AGM-114 HELLFIRE missile targeting capability and integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package. The aircraft can employ two laser-guided Hellfire anti-tank missiles with the MTS ball.
The system is composed of four major components, which can be deployed for worldwide operations. The Predator aircraft can be disassembled and loaded into a "coffin." The ground control system is transportable in a C-130 (or larger) transport aircraft. The Predator can operate on a 5,000 by 75 feet (1,524 meters by 23 meters), hard surface runway with clear line-of-sight. The ground data terminal antenna provides line-of-sight communications for takeoff and landing. The PPSL provides over-the-horizon communications for the aircraft. An alternate method of employment, Remote Split Operations, employs a smaller version of the GCS called the Launch and Recovery GCS. The LRGCS conducts takeoff and landing operations at the forward deployed location while the CONUS based GCS conducts the mission via extended communications links.
The aircraft includes an ARC-210 radio, an APX-100 IFF/SIF with Mode 4, an upgraded turbo-charged engine and glycol-weeping "wet wings" for ice mitigation. The latest upgrade includes fuel injection, longer wings, dual alternators and other improvements.
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