The U.S. Army has finally retired its oldest serving UAV, the MQ-5 Hunter. 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).
The MQ-5 entered service in 1996 with the understanding that they would be retired a decade later. Then came September 11, 2001. Retirement was rescheduled for 2011, but the success of large UAVs kept MQ-5s working until 2015. In two decades of use army MQ-5s have flew over 100,000 hours. Some 72 percent of that air time was in combat missions, most between 2005 and 2010. 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 them. 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. Then there was the problem that 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) followed in 2003 by war in Iraq. All the available MQ-5s were put to work and an upgrade program was undertaken. That eventually led to the MQ-5B in 2005. Hunter was modified to use the 44 pound GBU-44 Viper Strike precision-guided bomb. The Army bought 18 more MQ-5Bs in 2005 and by 2007 armed Hunters were operating in Iraq. At that point there were 47 MQ-5s in service. At retirement there were 30 left. The army has replaced Hunter with the MQ-1C Gray Eagle.