For the last three months, two
pre-production models of the U.S. Army's new Sky Warrior MQ-1C UAVs have been
in Iraq for testing. The first flight, lasting 10.5 hours, was on April
18th. The two MQ-1Cs are slightly larger
Predators, and are being used for missions formerly performed by Shadow 200,
and other large army UAVs. The big difference is that Sky Warrior can carry
weapons (like Hellfire missiles.)
Sky Warrior weighs 1.5 tons, carries 300 pounds of sensors internally, and up
to 500 pounds of sensors or weapons externally. It has an endurance of up to 36
hours and a top speed of 270 kilometers an hour. Sky Warrior has a wingspan 56
feet and is 28 feet long. The Sky Warrior can land and take off automatically,
and carry four Hellfire missiles (compared to two on the Predator). The
original MQ-1 Predator is a one ton aircraft that is 27 feet long with a
wingspan of 49 feet. It has two hard points, which usually carry one (107
pound) Hellfire each. Each hard point can also carry a Stinger air-to-air
missile. Max speed of the Predator is
215 kilometers an hour, max cruising speed is 160 kilometers an hour. Max
altitude is 25,000 feet. Typical sorties
are 12-20 hours each.
model number (MQ-1C) indicates, Sky Warrior is a Predator (MQ-1) replacement.
The U.S. Air Force plans to replace its MQ-1s with MQ-1Cs. Sky Warrior enters
production next year, and the U.S. Army (which paid for development) wants over
500. So far, the attrition rate of Predators has been over five percent a year.
Unless that can be brought down, few Predators will last more than a decade and
the MQ-1C will replace it gradually. Most of the losses are due to mechanical,
electronic, software or operator failure. Never have so many UAVs been used so
extensively, and intensively, in combat. So it's a learning experience in a new
environment. The attrition rate is coming down, but not rapidly.
and air force are going to jointly manage the Predator force, or at least the
MQ-1Cs. This will cause some unexpected scuffles, as many air force generals
believe the army should not have the MQ-1C, or at least not use them with
weapons. That has already caused some sparks to fly in the Pentagon, but the
recent purge and reshuffle of the senior air force leadership, by the Secretary
of Defense, makes it appear that the army will be left alone to build its new
robotic air force. Back in the 1950s, after a decade of bickering, the
Department of Defense ordered the army to stick with helicopters, while the air
force got all the fixed wing aircraft. But UAVs have no pilots in them and the
army does not consider them part of the half century old deal.
There is a
third member of the Predator family, that will stay just with the air force.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a 4.7 ton, 36 foot long aircraft with a 66 foot wingspan
that looks like the MQ-1. It has six hard points, and can carry 1,500 pounds of
weapons. These include Hellfire missiles (up to eight), two Sidewinder or two
AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, two Maverick
missiles, or two 500 pound smart bombs (laser or GPS guided.) Max speed is 400
kilometers an hour, and max endurance is 15 hours. The Reaper is considered a
combat aircraft, to replace F-16s or A-10s.