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Additional Predator UAVs for US Air Force (Oct 28)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --- With the MQ-1 Predator logging significant hours in counter-insurgency operations and earning troop support, the Air Force wants to buy more of the aircraft and develop the next-generation variant.

Predators worldwide are logging 4,000 hours a month in support of the war on terrorism and other operations. And since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, they have flown more than 103,000 combat hours in global operations, including a monthly record of 4,700 in July.

The Aeronautical Systems Center here manages the unmanned aerial vehicles and Air Combat Command units operated them.

“Predator is a highly effective weapon system ideally suited for supporting U.S. and coalition forces,” said Mr. Thomas Severyn, director of center’s Predator Systems Squadron. “Achieving 4,700 hours in a month confirms that persistent armed reconnaissance is a key weapon in the global war on terrorism.”

As part of center’s Reconnaissance Systems Wing, the Predator squadron procures aircraft, ground-control stations, support equipment, spare parts, depot repair services and retrofits to upgrade older variants. The squadron also provides world-wide sustainment aid, like engineering, depot support and supply chain management.

With Predator proving itself in combat and gaining legions of advocates, Congress authorized funding for 15 additional Predators and to accelerate delivery of aircraft already in production.

“We recently accepted Predator number 125, and we’ll exercise our third full-rate production contract in fiscal 2006,” Mr. Severyn said. “That includes a minimum of seven more Predators and a maximum of 36.”

Even with the program’s successes, the squadron is working to bring the next-generation system online. Predator MQ-9 will deliver significantly expanded capabilities, flying twice as high, twice as fast and carrying four times the weapons. Those include the GBU-12, EGBU-12 and GBU-38 500 lb. joint direct attack munition.

“The MQ-9 will provide a hunter-killer capability and will feature the ability to use synthetic aperture radar to hunt for targets,” Mr. Severyn said. “It will be able to cross-cue targeting data to the electro-optic/infrared sensor.”

According to Mr. Severyn, the MQ-9 -- Predator B -- is in the first stage of development and demonstration, and initial production. Initial combat capability versions are scheduled for delivery to operational units next spring, with production units targeted for delivery in 2008 -- after initial operational test and evaluation.

The Predator has quickly endeared itself to warfighters as a multi-role weapon system able to locate and strike time-critical targets, he said. And it provides a persistent eye in the sky over dangerous areas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Driving the Predator’s popularity are its two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, sophisticated sensors and cameras feeding full-motion video to ground troops and aircraft.

“I have seen our UAS (unmanned aircraft system) force evolve from one that was principally an intelligence-collection platform in Bosnia to one that today has a very potent air-to-ground capability and represents a truly flexible, combat platform,” said Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces commander

Mr. Severyn said people working in Predator program acquisition find it both rewarding and motivating to know troops in the field are singing the Predator’s praises. And that they are testifying to how the system is helping eradicate insurgent threats and saving the lives of U.S. and coalition forces.

“Troops in the field speak highly of the system, want more of it, and credit Predator for saving lives,” Mr. Severyn said.

He said the positive feedback “drives our people to do whatever it takes to provide support to the warfighters.”

“The long hours are minor burdens when put in the perspective of Predator eyes flying overhead supporting coalition forces, providing combat intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance -- and saving lives everyday,” he said.

Predator’s Success Ups Procurement and Development