From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|RQ-1 / MQ-1 Predator|
|Role||Remote controlled, UAV|
|Manufacturer||General Atomics Aeronautical Systems|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
|Unit cost||~ $4.5 million|
|Developed from||General Atomics GNAT|
The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which the United States Air Force (USAF) describes as a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV system. It can serve in a reconnaissance role and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen.
The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. The fully operational system consists of four air vehicles (with sensors), a ground control station (GCS), and a Predator primary satellite link communication suite. The U.S. Air Force considers the Predator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) a "Tier II" vehicle.
The Predator system was initially designated the RQ-1 Predator. The "R" is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and the "Q" refers to an unmanned aircraft system. The "1" describes it as being the first of a series of aircraft systems built for unmanned reconnaissance. Pre-production systems were designated as RQ-1A, while the RQ-1B (not to be confused with the RQ-1 Predator B, which became the MQ-9 Reaper) denotes the baseline production configuration. It should be emphasized that these are designations of the system as a unit. The actual aircraft themselves were designated RQ-1K for pre-production models, and RQ-1L for production models. In 2005, the USAF officially changed the designation to MQ-1 (the "M" designates multi-role) to reflect its growing use as an armed aircraft.
The RQ-1 Predator drone became the primary unmanned aerial vehicle used for offensive operations in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas. Its endurance is such that it can fly 400 nautical miles to a target, loiter overhead for 14 hours, then return to its base. US generals testifying before the United States Congress in November-December 2009 about the new Afghanistan strategy declined to discuss the issue of Predator-launched missile strikes in public. The program was supposed to be classified. They discussed their appreciation for the intelligence and reconnaissance-gathering abilities of UAVs.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon had each been experimenting with reconnaissance drones since the early 1980s. The CIA preferred small, lightweight, unobtrusive drones, in contrast to the USAF. In the early 1990s the agency became interested in the "Amber", a drone developed by Abraham Karem and his company, Leading Systems Inc. Karem was the former chief designer for the Israeli Air Force, and had migrated to the United States in the late 1970s. Karem's company had since gone bankrupt and been bought up by a US defense contractor. The CIA secretly bought five drones (now called the "Gnat") from them. Karem agreed to produce a quiet engine for the vehicle, which had until then sounded like "a lawnmower in the sky". The new development became known as the "Predator".
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems was awarded a contract to develop the Predator in January 1994, and the initial Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) phase lasted from January 1994 to June 1996. The aircraft itself was a derivative of the GA Gnat 750 UAV. During the ACTD phase, three systems were purchased from GA, comprising twelve aircraft and three ground control stations.
From April through May, 1995, the Predator ACTD aircraft were flown as a part of the Roving Sands 1995 exercises in the U.S. The exercise operations were successful, and this led to the decision to deploy the system to the Balkans later in the summer of 1995.
The CIA arranged for Air Force teams trained by the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to fly the agency's Predators. "First in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, CIA officers began to see the first practical returns ..."
By the time of the Afghan campaign, the Air Force had acquired 60 Predators, and lost 20 of them in action. Few if any of the losses were from enemy action, the worst problem apparently being foul weather, particularly icy conditions. Some critics within the Pentagon saw the high loss rate as a sign of poor operational procedures. In response to the losses caused by cold weather flight conditions, a few of the later Predators obtained by the USAF were fitted with deicing systems, along with an uprated turbocharged engine and improved avionics. This improved "Block 1" version was referred to as the "RQ-1B", or the "MQ-1B" if it carried munitions; the corresponding air vehicle designation was "RQ-1L" or "MQ-1L".
Command and sensor systems
During the campaign in the former Yugoslavia, a Predator's pilot would sit with several payload specialists in a van near the runway of the drone's operating base. (In its Balkan operation, the CIA secretly flew Predators out of Hungary and Albania.) Direct radio signals controlled the drone's takeoff and initial ascent. Then communications shifted to military satellite networks linked to the pilot's van. Pilots experienced a delay of several seconds between tugging their joysticks and the drone's response. But by 2000 improvements in communications systems (perhaps by use of the USAF's JSTARS system) made it possible, at least in theory, to fly the drone remotely from great distances. It was no longer necessary to use close-up radio signals during the Predator's takeoff and ascent. The entire flight could be controlled by satellite from any command center with the right equipment. The CIA proposed to attempt over Afghanistan the first fully remote Predator flight operations, piloted from the agency's headquarters at Langley.
The Predator air vehicle and sensors are controlled from the ground station via a C-band line-of-sight data link or a Ku-band satellite data link for beyond-line-of-sight operations. During flight operations the crew in the ground control station is a pilot and two sensor operators. The aircraft is equipped with the AN/AAS-52 Multi-spectral Targeting System, a color nose camera (generally used by the pilot for flight control), a variable aperture day-TV camera, and a variable aperture infrared camera (for low light/night). Previously, Predators were equipped with a synthetic aperture radar for looking through smoke, clouds or haze, but lack of use validated its removal to reduce weight. The cameras produce full motion video and the synthetic aperture radar produced still frame radar images. There is sufficient bandwidth on the datalink for two video sources to be used at one time, but only one video source from the sensor ball can be used at any time due to design limitations. Either the daylight variable aperture or the infrared electro-optical sensor may be operated simultaneously with the synthetic aperture radar, if equipped.
All Predators are equipped with a laser designator that allows the pilot to identify targets for other aircraft and even provide the laser-guidance for manned aircraft. This laser is also the designator for the AGM-114 Hellfire that are carried on the MQ-1.
Each Predator air vehicle can be disassembled into six main components and loaded into a container nicknamed "the coffin." This enables all system components and support equipment to be rapidly deployed worldwide. The largest component is the ground control station and it is designed to roll into a C-130 Hercules. The Predator primary satellite link consists of a 6.1 meter (20 ft) satellite dish and associated support equipment. The satellite link provides communications between the ground station and the aircraft when it is beyond line-of-sight and is a link to networks that disseminate secondary intelligence. The RQ-1A system needs 1,500 by 40 meters (5,000 by 125 ft) of hard surface runway with clear line-of-sight to each end from the ground control station to the air vehicles. Initially, all components needed to be located on the same airfield.
Currently, the US Air Force uses a concept called "Remote-Split Operations" where the satellite datalink is located in a different location and is connected to the GCS through fiber optic cabling. This allows Predators to be launched and recovered by a small "Launch and Recovery Element" and then handed off to a "Mission Control Element" for the rest of the flight. This allows a smaller number of troops to be deployed to a forward location, and consolidates control of the different flights in one location.
The improvements in the MQ-1B production version include an ARC-210 radio, an APX-100 IFF/SIF with mode 4, a glycol-weeping “wet wings” ice mitigation system, up-graded turbo-charged engine, fuel injection, longer wings, dual alternators as well as other improvements.
On 18 May 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a certificate of authorization, which will allow the M/RQ-1 and M/RQ-9 aircraft to be used within U.S. civilian airspace to search for survivors of disasters. Requests had been made in 2005 for the aircraft to be used in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina, but because there was no FAA authorization in place at the time, the assets were not used. The Predator's infrared camera with digitally-enhanced zoom has the capability of identifying the heat signature of a human body from an altitude of 3 km (10,000 ft), making the aircraft an ideal search and rescue tool.
The longest declassified Predator flight was 40 hours, 5 minutes.
The total flight time has reached 400 thousand hours as of March 2009.
Armed version development
The Air Force handed the Predator over to the service's Big Safari office after the Kosovo campaign in order to accelerate tests of the UAV in a strike role, fitted with reinforced wings and stores pylons to carry munitions, as well as a laser designator. This effort led to a series of tests, on 21 February 2001, in which the Predator fired three Hellfire anti-armor missiles, scoring hits on a stationary tank with all three missiles. The scheme was put into service, with the armed Predators given the new designation of MQ-1A. Given that a Predator is very unobtrusive and the Hellfire is supersonic, such a combination gives little warning of attack.
In the winter of 2000-2001, after seeing the results of Predator reconnaissance in Afghanistan (see below), Cofer Black, head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC), became a "vocal advocate" of arming the Predator with missiles to target Osama bin Laden in the country. He also believed that CIA pressure and practical interest was causing the USAF's armed Predator program to be significantly accelerated. Black, and "Richard", who was in charge of the CTC's Bin Laden Issue Station, continued to press during 2001 for a Predator armed with Hellfire missiles.
Further weapons tests occurred between 22 May and 7 June 2001, with mixed results. While missile accuracy was excellent, there were some problems with missile fuzing...." In the first week of June, in the Nevada Desert, a Hellfire missile was successfully launched on a replica of bin Laden's Afghanistan Tarnak residence. A missile launched from a Predator exploded inside one of the replica's rooms; it was concluded that any people in the room would have been killed. However, the armed Predator did not go into action before the September 11 attacks.
NASA and NPGS unarmed research versions
The U.S. Army selected the MQ-1C Warrior as the winner of the Extended-Range Multi-Purpose UAV competition August 2005, and the type is due to become operational in 2009.
The total number of Predators in U.S. Air Force use as of March 2009 were 195 Predators and 28 Reapers. Predators and Reapers fired missiles 244 times in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008. A report in March 2009 indicated that U.S. Air Force had lost 70 Predators in air crashes during its operational history. Fifty-five were lost to equipment failure, operator error, or weather. Four have been shot down in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Iraq. Eleven more were lost to operational accidents on combat missions.
Squadrons and operational units
During the initial ACTD phase, the United States Army led the evaluation program, but in April 1996, the Secretary of Defense selected the U.S. Air Force as the operating service for the RQ-1A Predator system. The 11th, 15th, and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons, Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, and the Air National Guard's 163d Reconnaissance Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, currently operate the MQ-1 (see below).
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense recommended retiring Ellington Field's 147th Fighter Wing's F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets (a total of 15 aircraft), which was approved by the Base Realignment and Closure committee. They will be replaced with 12 MQ-1 Predator UAVs, and the new unit should be fully equipped and outfitted by 2009. The wing's combat support arm will remain intact. The 272nd Engineering Installation Squadron, an Air National Guard unit currently located off-base, will move into Ellington Field in its place.
The first overseas deployment was to the Balkans, from July to November 1995, under the name Nomad Vigil. Operations were based in Gjader, Albania. At least two Predators were lost during Nomad Vigil, one of them to hostile fire.
Several others were destroyed in the course of Operation Noble Anvil:
- One aircraft (serial 95-3017) was lost on 18 April 1999, following fuel system problems and icing.
- A second aircraft (serial 95-3019) was lost on 13 May, when it was shot down by a Serbian Strela-1M surface-to-air missile over the village of Biba. A Serbian TV crew videotaped this incident.
- A third aircraft (serial number 95-3021) crashed on 20 May near the town of Talinovci, and Serbian news reported that this, too, was the result of anti-aircraft fire.
In 2000 a joint CIA-Pentagon effort was agreed to locate Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Dubbed "Afghan Eyes", it involved a projected 60-day trial run of Predators over the country. The first experimental flight was held on 7 September 2000. White House security chief Richard A. Clarke was impressed by the resulting video footage; he hoped that the drones might eventually be used to target Bin Laden with cruise missiles or armed aircraft. Clarke's enthusiasm was matched by that of Cofer Black, head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC), and Charles Allen, in charge of the CIA's intelligence-collection operations. The three men backed an immediate trial run of reconnaissance flights. Ten out of the ensuing 15 Predator missions over Afghanistan were rated successful. On at least two flights, a Predator spotted a tall man in white robes at bin Laden's Tarnak Farm compound outside Kandahar; the figure was subsequently deemed to be "probably bin Laden". By October 2000, deteriorating weather conditions made it difficult for the Predator to fly from its base in Uzbekistan, and the flights were suspended.
On February 16, 2001 at Nellis Air Force base, a Predator successfully fired three Hellfire AGM-114C missiles into a target. The newly armed Predators were given the designation of MQ-1A. In the first week of June, 2001, a Hellfire missile was successfully launched on a replica of bin Laden's Afghanistan Tarnak residence built at a Nevada testing site. A missile launched from a Predator exploded inside one of the replica's rooms; it was concluded that any people in the room would have been killed. On 4 September 2001 (after the Bush cabinet approved a Qaeda/Taliban plan) CIA chief Tenet order the agency to resume reconnaissance flights. The Predators were now weapons-capable, but didn't carry missiles because the host country (presumably Uzbekistan) hadn't granted permission.
Subsequent to 9/11, approval was quickly granted to ship the missiles, and the Predator aircraft and missiles reached their overseas location on 16 September 2001. The first mission was flown over Kabul and Kandahar on 18 September without carrying weapons. Subsequent host nation approval was granted on 7 October and the first armed mission was flown on the same day.
- On 4 February 2002, an armed Predator attacked a convoy of sport utility vehicles, killing a suspected al Qaeda leader. The intelligence community initially expressed doubt that he was Osama bin Laden.
- On 4 March 2002, a CIA-operated Predator fired a Hellfire missile into a reinforced al Qaeda machine gun bunker that had pinned down an Army Ranger team whose CH-47 Chinook had crashed on the top of Takur Ghar Mountain in Afghanistan. Previous attempts by flights of F-15 and F-16 aircraft were unable to destroy the bunker. This action took place during what has become known as the "Battle of Robert's Ridge", a part of Operation Anaconda. This appears to be the first use of such a weapon in a close air support role.
Since at least 2004, the US Central Intelligence Agency has allegedly been operating the drones out of Shamsi airfield in Pakistan to attack militants in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Since May 2005 the MQ-1 Predator fitted with Hellfire missiles has been successfully used to kill a number of prominent al Qaeda operatives. The use of the Predator has also resulted in a number of civilian deaths, particularly on 13 January 2006 when 18 civilians were killed. According to Pakistani authorities, the U.S. strike was based on faulty intelligence.
- On 3 November 2002, a CIA Predator (being flown by an Air Force pilot from a French military base, Camp Lemonier, in Djibouti) was again used in a military strike. A Hellfire missile was fired at a car in Yemen, killing Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, an al-Qaeda leader thought to be responsible for the USS Cole bombing. It was the first direct US strike in the War on Terrorism outside Afghanistan.
In 2004, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC-TV) international affairs program Foreign Correspondent investigated this targeted assassination and the involvement of then US Ambassador as part of a special report titled "The Yemen Option". The report also examined the evolving tactics and countermeasures in dealing with Al Qaeda inspired attacks.
- An Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a Predator performing reconnaissance over the no fly zone in Iraq on 23 December 2002, after the Predator fired a missile at it. This was the first time in history a conventional aircraft and a drone had engaged in combat. Predators had been armed with AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles, and were being used to "bait" Iraqi fighter planes, then run. In this incident, the Predator did not run, but instead fired one of the Stingers. The Stinger's heat-seeker became "distracted" by the MiG's missile and so missed the MiG, and the Predator was destroyed.
- During the initial phases of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a number of older Predators were stripped down and used as decoys to entice Iraqi air defenses to expose themselves by firing.
- From July 2005 to June 2006, the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron participated in more than 242 separate raids, engaged 132 troops in contact-force protection actions, fired 59 Hellfire missiles; surveyed 18,490 targets, escorted four convoys, and flew 2,073 sorties for more than 33,833 flying hours.
- Iraq insurgents hack into video feeds, which are not encrypted, using a $26 Russian software named SkyGrabber. The encryption for the ROVER feeds were removed for performance reasons.
Since the end of 2004 it is also used by the Italian Air Force and since 2006 by the Royal Air Force. Two civil-registered unarmed MQ-1s have been operated by the Office of the National Security Advisor in the Philippines since 2006.
- Turkish Air Force; The Turkish Air Force has on order 6 MQ-1 Predators via the USA's Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
- United States Air Force
- Air Combat Command
- 432d Air Expeditionary Wing — Creech Air Force Base, Nevada
- 49th Fighter Wing - Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico
- 849th Aircraft Maintance Squadron
- 53d Wing — Eglin Air Force Base, Florida
- Air Force Special Operations Command
- Air Combat Command
- Air National Guard
- Texas Air National Guard
- California Air National Guard
- North Dakota Air National Guard
- Arizona Air National Guard
- Central Intelligence Agency
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- Crew: none
- Length: 27 ft (8.22 m)
- Wingspan: 48.7 ft (14.8 m (dependent on block of aircraft))
- Height: 6.9 ft (2.1 m)
- Wing area: 123.3 sq ft (11.5 m²)
- Empty weight: 1,130 lb (512 kg)
- Loaded weight: 2,250 lb (1,020 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 2,250 lb (1,020 kg)
- Powerplant: 1× Rotax 914F turbocharged Four-cylinder engine, 115 hp (86 kW)
- Maximum speed: 135 mph (117 knots, 217 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 81–103 mph (70–90 knots, 130–165 km/h)
- Stall speed: 62 mph (54 knots (dependent on weight of aircraft), 100 km/h)
- Range: >2,000 nm (3,704 km, 2,302 miles)
- Service ceiling: 25,000 ft  (7,620 m)
- ^ a b c "Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda". New York Times. March 16, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/business/17uav.html?hp. Retrieved 2009-03-17. "Considered a novelty a few years ago, the Air Force’s fleet has grown to 195 Predators and 28 Reapers, a new and more heavily armed cousin of the Predator."
- ^ USAF Tier system scheme
- ^ "A Short Primer on Military Aircraft Designations" (doc). Hill Aerospace Museum. http://www.hill.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-070507-053.doc. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
- ^ a b c d e Modern Endurance UAVs
- ^ USAF MQ-1 factsheet
- ^ "Drone aircraft in a stepped-up war in Afghanistan and Pakistan"
- ^ spyflight.co.uk
- ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.527-8 and 658 note 5.
- ^ a b FAS Intelligence Resource Program RQ-1 information
- ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.529 and 658 note 6.
- ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.529-32.
- ^ http://www.janes.com/extracts/extract/jeos/jeos8417.html
- ^ SSgt Amy Robinson, "FAA Authorizes Predators to seek survivors," August 2, 2006
- ^ UAV Librarian desk
- ^ 
- ^ Predator missile launch test totally successful
- ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.534, 548-9; The CIA and the Predator Drone (2000-1); Statement of CIA chief Tenet to 9/11 Commission, March 24, 2004, p.15; Barton Gellman, "A Strategy's Cautious Evolution", Washington Post,Jan. 20, 2002, p.A01.
- ^ Drew, Christopher (2009-03-17). "Drones Are Weapons Of Choice In Fighting Qaeda". New York Times: p. 1. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/business/17uav.html?em=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- ^ "Guard unit welcomes Predator, reconnaissance mission". Air Force Link. 2008-06-12. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123102387.
- ^ [dead link]
- ^ LA Now - Southern California, Secember 7, 2009, retrieved December 7, 2009
- ^ Major Robert C. Nolan II: The Pilotless Air Force?. The Research DepartmentAir Command and Staff College, March 1997, page 6
- ^ University of Texas at Arlington
- ^ AFPN report.
- ^ a b Balkan UAV loss report
- ^ Serbian TV screen captures showing serial number and wreckage of downed Predator
- ^ 9/11 Commission Final Report, chapter 6, pp.189-90 (HTML version)
- ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, Penguin, 2005 edn., pp.532, 534
- ^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 6, pp.213-14; Tenet Testimony to the 9/11 Commission, March 24, 2004, p.16.
- ^ Operation Anaconda - The Battle for Robert's Ridge, video documentary shown on the Military Channel, 
- ^ Page, Jeremy (February 19, 2009). "Google Earth Reveals Secret History Of US Base In Pakistan" (Newspaper article). The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5762371.ece. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
- ^ Geens, Stefan (February 24, 2009). "About those missing Predator drones: It wasn't censorship after all". http://www.ogleearth.com/2009/02/about_those_mis.html. Retrieved May 4, 2009.
- ^ a b ABC news report
- ^ USAToday article
- ^ Telegraph.co.uk article, "Pakistan fury as CIA airstrike on village kills 18"
- ^ Whitlock, Craig (2007-09-11). "The New Al-Qaeda Central: Far From Declining, the Network Has Rebuilt, With Fresh Faces and a Vigorous Media Arm". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/08/AR2007090801845_pf.html. Retrieved 2007-09-11.
- ^ Washington Post article
- ^ "The Yemen Option". Mark Corcoran. Foreign Correspondent. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2004-02-03. No. 24, series 13. Transcript.
- ^ "Interview with James Bamford on the National Security Agency". Steve Scher on Weekday. KUOW-FM. 2007-02-23. 21–24 minutes in.
- ^ a b CBS News report of the dogfight
- ^ CBS video of shoot-down; also includes a brief clip of the May 13, 1999 Balkans shoot-down
- ^ Staff Sgt. D. Clare, "California Air National Guard embraces new mission", August 16, 2006
- ^ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126102247889095011.html
- ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/middle_east/8419147.stm
- ^ http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/12/17/drone.video.hacked/index.html
- ^ http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2009/12/airforce_uav_hack_121809w/
- ^ Philippines operation 2006 details
- ^ Ministry of Defence (2007-11-09). "Reaper takes to the air in Afghanistan". http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/EquipmentAndLogistics/ReaperTakesToTheAirInAfghanistan.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- ^ Turkish army seeks procurement agency to bid for US Predators
- ^ Krenke, Ellen (2009-08-17). "Air Guard should keep UAS missions". AFLink. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123163565. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
- ^ "RQ-1 Predator information from The Warfighter's Encyclopedia". https://wrc.navair-rdte.navy.mil/. 2003-08-14. https://wrc.navair-rdte.navy.mil/warfighter_enc/aircraft/UAVs/predator.htm.
- ^ a b c d USAF MQ-1 fact sheet
- ^ "Jane's Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Targets", Issue Twenty, May 2003, Edited by Kenneth Munson
- Parts of this article are taken from the 
- This article contains material that originally came from the web article Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by Greg Goebel, which exists in the Public Domain.
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