October 30, 2012: Even though the American war in Iraq is over and the one in Afghanistan is winding down, the U.S. still has a growing UAV fleet. The most numerous UAVs are the micros (under 5 kg/11 pounds), like the Raven. There are several thousand of these still in service and they are very popular with ground troops. The Raven’s take a beating and often don’t survive more than a few months of combat. Most micros are Ravens but there are nearly a thousand other models.
The larger (over 100 kg/220 pounds each) UAVs are growing in number and last longer. The U.S. Army has 450 Shadow 200 UAVs and another 20 on order. The U.S. Marine Corps also has 52 Shadow 200s. The army has 20 of the 1990s era Hunter UAVs, which are being retired next year and are being replaced by the new Grey Eagle. There are 40 of these in service and another 110 on order.
The U.S. Air Force has 175 Predators (and is not buying any more) and 40 of the larger Reaper (and plans to buy 480 more). Then there is the much larger (business jet size) strategic UAV. Currently this consists of various models of the Global Hawk, with 14 in service and over fifty planned or on order by the air force and navy. Then there are the helicopter UAVs, but only the navy has found these essential and over 60 Fire Scouts are on order by the navy.
The CIA has a force of about 30 Predator and Reaper UAVs and wants another ten Reapers. It was the CIA that pioneered the use of Hellfire missiles on UAVs and doesn’t say much about what it does with their robotic air force. That’s because the CIA UAVs often operate in areas where the U.S. won’t admit there are American UAVs or wants to be discreet (like Pakistan).