Unmanned drones have played a significant role in the US military and have been a game changer on the battlefield since their inception, and Beechcraft’s MQM-107 Streaker was among the first to take flight.

Reusable, Target Towing Drone

Beech Aircraft (now Raytheon Aerospace) developed the earlier version of the MQM-107 in the early 1970s for the US Army Aviation and Missile Command. The Army had been attempting “to meet the 1972 Variable Speed Training Target (VSTT) requirement for a reusable, turbojet-powered, target towing drone capable of testing surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems,” and the MQM-107A fit the bill.

US Air Force National Museum
(Image source: USAF National Museum)

By 1975, the Army awarded “The Striker” the contract subsequently used the platform to test systems like the man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS), FIM-92 Stinger, and the SAM system, MIM-104 Patriot, until 1979. The Air Force also used the target towing drone for testing some of its air-to-air missiles, including the short-range AIM-9 Sidewinder and the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

The remote aircraft was updated several times over the next two decades, with different engines and payloads, and used by various operators besides the US. This includes Australia, Egypt, Iran, South Korea, and Turkey, to name a few.

Powered By A Microturbo Engine

According to the US Air Force National Museum, the Streaker was a remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) used to simulate the characteristics of potential enemy targets, including the heat and radar returns. Spicing things up, it could also drop chaff and flares to deceive interceptor crews. It boasted about eighteen feet in length and a wingspan of more than nine feet that stood at approximately four feet.

The MQM-107 Streaker can endure a two-hour and eighteen-minute flight at a maximum speed of 575 mph and reach a ceiling of 40,000 feet. Its trajectory could be programmed ahead of the launch or changed during flight by a ground controller via a radio link. A parachute will aid the aircraft’s landing recovery at the end of the mission.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon flying in formation with an MQM-107E. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

A manning crew will launch the platform on the ground with solid fuel boosters that quickly accelerate it to roughly 250 mph. Once in the air, the aircraft will be powered by a Microturbo TRI 60-2 turbojet (MQM-107B) of 831-pound thrust. An MQM-107C, which featured the fuselage of MQM-107B, was built to exhaust the J402-CA-700 engine surplus, as well as with MQM-107D instead equipped with J402-CA-702. In 1989, the engine of the “D” variant was replaced with a Microturbo TRI 60-5. Then, in the early 1990s, the MQM-107E variant was developed, which received an overhaul in its wing and maneuverability, and can employ either the Teledyne CAE J402 engine or the “D” variant’s engine. However, instead of Raytheon (who at this point bought Beech Aircraft), the Army selected British manufacturer BAE Systems. Australia was among the first country to operate the RPV besides the US, and they chose the “E” variant as a replacement to its GAF Jindivik (“Hunted Ones”) target drones, designating it as N28 Kalkara. Other variants include Super-MQM, an experimental Raytheon version of the MQM-107D, and Raider, a proposed tactical unmanned aircraft capable of active and passive countermeasures.

In the Hands of Adversaries

The production continued until 2003, when the program ended. As a result, the current inventory is scheduled for phase-out in favor of Composite Engineering’s BQM-167 Skeeter as its replacement. However, reports began circulating in 2012 that a few of these RPVs had made their way to Syria, then sold to North Korea.

“North Korea recently bought several US MQM-107D Streakers from a Middle Eastern nation that appears to be Syria, and is developing unmanned attack aircraft based on them,” a South Korean news agency, Yonhap, reported. It added that the North’s military has placed explosives on drones in several tests but has yet to master the technology.

Pyongyang has so far built unmanned aerial vehicles in the past based on Chinese designs to spy over South Korea, which feature highly explosive armaments and has GPS-waypoint navigational capability. So, the intelligence report about MQM-107D making its way into the totalitarian state was rather odd, to say the least.

Iran was another copycat of the MQM-107 after many of the RPVs were exported to the country in the 70s. However, like North Korea, the Iranians reverse-engineered the aircraft in 2010, adding their flair to it, resulting in the HESA Karrar, a jet-powered target drone with combined elements of Denel Dynamics Skua, a South African turbojet-engined target drone.

Karrar UAV
A Karrar UAV was displayed at the 8th International Iran Air Show in 2016. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Iranian modified MQM-107 can reach speeds of over 500 mph and has been converted from a target role to a bomber capable of carrying two 250-pound anti-ship missiles, a 500-pound GPS-guided bomb, or a small cruise missile.