Twenty-one years ago, the skies over combat zones were a very different place.  Aircraft of all sorts screamed across the sky just as they do today, but just about every one of them had a person at the helm – controlling the craft from within and using a radio to communicate to ground elements and control.  Although instrumental in establishing military superiority over an opponent, manned aircraft offer a few downsides – most prominent among them, having to keep the sack of meat in the pilot seat alive throughout the operation.

Enter the MQ-1 Predator UAV.  While not the first drone aircraft, the Predator quickly became the go-to reconnaissance vehicle for American intelligence and defense agencies, coupling its ability to loiter over an area with a suite of surveillance equipment (called the AN/AAS-52 Multi-spectral Targeting System) held within the craft’s bulbous nose.  Soon, arming the Predator became common practice, serving as both a force multiplier and unique weapons delivery platform that has aided in achieving countless objectives in the war on terror – and gaining plenty of critics for America’s use of the drone over contested regions all over the world.

But after over more than two decades of service, the United States Air Force announced that it would be retiring the storied MQ-1 Predator Drone in the early months of 2018, with most units transitioning away from the platform as early as this coming summer.  In its place, the Air Force will introduce the MQ-9, a redesigned UAV built specifically to outperform its predecessor in the ever-changing combat environment that is modern warfare.

“When you ask about readiness, you have to ask ready for what?” said Air Force Colonel Joseph, the 432nd Operations Group commander. “If we talk about the things we could be ready for and what we should be asking our attack squadrons to do, then transitioning to an all MQ-9 force is imperative for readiness.”