Procurement: Piling On The Predators

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p> April 8, 2008: The U.S. Air Force has bought another 24 MQ-1B Predator and four more MQ-9 Reaper (or "Predator B") UAVs. In two years, the air force expects to have fifteen Predator squadrons, and at least one more Predator Wing. Between 2007 and 2010 it plans to buy 170 MQ-1B Predators, and up to 70 MQ-9 Reapers (or Predator B). While the Predator was a reconnaissance aircraft that could carry weapons (two Hellfire missiles, each weighing a hundred pounds), the Reaper was designed as a combat aircraft  that also does reconnaissance. The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB, or Hellfire missiles.  The Predators cost about $4.5 million each (with sensors, about half as much without), while the Reaper goes for about $8.5 million (with sensors). The Reaper can only stay in the air for up to 24 hours, versus 40 hours for the Predator. But experience has shown that few missions require even 24 hours endurance. For that reason, the air force decided not to give the Reaper an inflight refueling capability. The Reaper also carries sensors equal to those found in targeting pods like the Sniper XL or Litening, and flies at the same 20,000 foot altitude of most fighters using those pods. This makes the Reaper immune to most ground fire, and capable of seeing, and attacking, anything down there. All at one tenth of the price of a manned fighter aircraft.  The air force expects to stop buying the Predator in three years, and switch over to the Reaper, and new designs still in development.