January 19, 2011: The U.S. Army has been so desperate to obtain larger UAVs, that it has kept an obsolete model, the MQ-5 Hunter, in service a decade after it was to have been retired. Thus, in two decades of use, army MQ-5s have flown for 100,000 hours. Some 72 percent of that air time was in combat missions, most in the last five years. Initial problems were either overcome or eliminated with upgrades. The Hunter eventually became a reliable, if less capable than the Predator, reconnaissance UAV.
Hunter was an Israeli design that the U.S. Army hoped to use for divisional reconnaissance. The original plan was to buy 400 of these UAVs. The MQ-5 began in the 1990s as the BQM-155, and 56 were originally bought. Some were lost to accidents, and performance wasn't what the army really wanted (and many generals just did not like UAVs), so MQ-5 production was halted and plans were made to retire existing aircraft. But then came peacekeeping duties in Kosovo (1999), and then (2003) war in Iraq. All the MQ-5s were put to work, and an upgrade program was undertaken (that eventually led to the MQ-5B). For example, Hunter was modified to use the 44 pound GBU-44 Viper Strike precision-guided bomb. The Army bought 18 more MQ-5Bs in 2005. Four years ago, armed Hunters were operating in Iraq. There are still 47 MQ-5s in service.
The MQ-5 is, at 727 kg (1,600 pounds) smaller than the one ton (2,300 pounds) Predator, and has a payload of only 90 kg (200 pounds). Hunters can stay in the air for 11 hours per sortie (23 hours for the upgraded MQ-5B) and operate up to 260 kilometers from the operator. Hunter cruises at about 120 kilometers an hour at a max altitude of 5,000 meters (16,000 feet).