June 30, 2007:
The U.S. Army's MQ-5A Hunter UAV
lost out to the Predator in the 1990s competition for a primary battlefield
UAV. But the army kept in storage the 61 it had, and put them back in action in
time for the 1999 Kosovo operation. The need for UAVs in Iraq kept Hunter in
action. So far, the Hunters have flown over 50,000 hours, about half of them in
combat, and most of that in just the last year. Originally an also-ran, the
Hunter has turned into a popular UAV, and received a number of upgrades.
However, the Predator, with twice as many aircraft in service, has flown
250,000 hours so far.
The 1600 pound MQ-5A can only carry 200 pounds of
sensors and weapons. It's an Israeli design, and the Israelis have had great
success with it. But the Predator is larger and has longer endurance, and this
has been a major advantage. Predator can also carry hundred pound Hellfire
missiles, which the Hunter can only carry two 44 pound Viper Strikes. Army
helicopter pilots are selected and trained to operate the armed Hunters.
A new version of the Hunter has a more powerful
engine and larger fuel capacity, giving it 40 hours endurance, and a weight of
2,200 pounds. The new version is called MQ-5B, and the army has ordered 18 of
them, as well as upgrading nine MQ-5As to B versions. The MQ-5B also has
improved software, which enables it to take off and land by itself. Endurance
for Hunter has been increased several times over the last few years, from the
original eleven hours.