December 20, 2007:
Last week, an a MQ-1 Predator crashed in Iraq,
the eighth one this year. This is noteworthy, and not just because of the fact
that this is the third since November 28. It shows that the UAVs, while very
valuable, are more prone to crashing than manned aircraft. This is a serious matter.
The Air Force has a total of 97 on inventory so each Predator crash (or loss
due to combat) means that the entire force has suffered a loss of one percent.
In essence, the Predator force is proving that it is a bit more fragile than it
Is one percent a lot? The answer is
yes, it can be, especially when the losses mount up. The Air Force had lost as
many as 53 Predators out of 139 delivered as of this past March, losses of
about 40 percent. Keep in mind that 20 percent heavy bomber losses in the second Schweinfurt Raid of 1943,
forced the United States Air Force to curtail similar missions for five months
during the height of World War II.
The Predator force has proven to be an
effective anti-terrorist weapon, often using Hellfire missiles to take out
gunmen and IED planters but also to kill high-ranking terrorists in strikes
like the one lunched in 2002. In essence, it was a modification to the Israeli
approach of using Hellfires, albeit from AH-64 Apache gunships.
The result of these missions is that
the Predators are flying a lot of missions. And as the mission rate increases,
these aircraft will be stretched further and further. In recent months,
Predators have flown over 175 sorties a month, each averaging over 18 hours.
This averages at just under six sorties a day.
The Air Force has contracts for 250
Predators. The Army is getting another 120 modified versions, for a total of
370. This will not include those operated by other government agencies. Still,
the loss rate is going to be a matter of concern. If it does not improve, the
Predator force could become largely ineffective. Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)