November 29, 2010:
The U.S. Air Force has 53 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs in service, and plans to buy another 276. About fifty of these are in various states of construction. The MQ-1 is being replaced by the MQ-9, and the last USAF MQ-1 was built this year. The total USAF fleet of MQ-1s and MQ-9s consists of about 200 UAVs.
So far, between the air force and CIA (a major operator of UAVs over Pakistan, and other places), about 20 percent of the 500 MQ-1 and MQ-9s built have been lost. But the troops can't get enough of these aircraft overhead, and this year MQ-1s and 9s will spend over 300,000 hours in the air over Iraq and (mostly) Afghanistan. That's compared to 185,000 hours last year and 151,000 hours in 2008. It took 12 years of service (1995-2007, including development) for the MQ-1 Predator alone to reach its first 250,000 hours. It took another two years (2007-2009) to fly an additional 250,000 hours (500,000 total). It took less than a year to reach another 250,000 hour milestone (Spring 2010).
The MQ-1 Predator UAV has evolved into a family of three aircraft. The original Predator is a one ton aircraft that is 8.7 meters (27 feet) long with a wingspan of 15.8 meters (49 feet). It has two hard points, which usually carry one (47 kg/107 pound) Hellfire each. Each hard point can also carry a Stinger air-to-air missile. Max speed of the Predator is 215 kilometers an hour, max cruising speed is 160 kilometers an hour. Max altitude is 8,000 m (25,000 feet). Typical sorties are 12-20 hours each.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a 4.7 ton, 11.6 meters (36 foot) long aircraft with a 21.3 meters (66 foot) wingspan that looks like the MQ-1. It has six hard points, and can carry 682 kg (1,500 pounds) of weapons. These include Hellfire missiles (up to eight), two Sidewinder or two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, two Maverick missiles, two 227 kg (500 pound) smart bombs (laser or GPS guided.) Max speed is 400 kilometers an hour, and max endurance is 15 hours. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, to replace F-16s or A-10s.
The U.S. Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle Warrior weighs 1.5 tons, carries 136 kg (300 pounds) of sensors internally, and up to 227 kg of sensors or weapons externally. It has an endurance of up to 36 hours and a top speed of 270 kilometers an hour. Sky Warrior has a wingspan of 18 meters (56 feet) and is 9 meters (28 feet) long. The Sky Warrior can land and take off automatically, and carry four Hellfire missiles (compared to two on the Predator).
Each of these UAVs costs $8-20 million each, depending on the sensor package. China is trying to export UAVs nearly identical to the Predator, but about 20 percent lighter.