Forces: The 432nd Predator Wing


May 7, 2007: The U.S. Air Force has formed the first UAV Wing. The 432nd Wing contains six Predator and one maintenance squadrons. Each Predator squadron has at least twelve UAVs, and sometimes as many as 24. Squadrons have 400-500 personnel. Only about two thirds of those troops go overseas with the UAVs. The rest stay behind in the United States, and fly the Predators via a satellite link. The 432nd has 60 MQ-1 Predator and six MQ-9 Reaper (also called Predator B) UAVs. The Wing expects to have its UAVs in the air for at least 75,000 hours this year. When in a combat zone, each Predator averages about 110 hours in the air each month. Each aircraft flies 6-7 sorties a month, each one lasting 17-18 hours on average.

Wings, which are roughly the size of army brigades, are the largest units in the air force, aside from the numbered air forces (1st Air Force, 7th Air Force, and so on). There used be Air Divisions (composed of two or more Wings), but these were phased out in the 1990s.

In three years, the air force expects to have fifteen Predator squadrons, and at least one more Predator Wing. During that period it is buying 170 MQ-1 Predators, and up to 70 MQ-9 Reapers (or Predator B). While the Predator was a reconnaissance aircraft that could carry weapons (two Hellfire missiles, each weighing a hundred pounds), the Reaper was designed as a combat aircraft that also does reconnaissance. The Reaper can carry over half a ton of GPS or laser guided bombs, as well as the 250 pound SDB, or Hellfire missiles. The Predators cost about $4.5 million each, while the Reaper goes for about $8.5 million. The Reaper can only stay in the air for up to 24 hours, versus 40 hours for the Predator. But experience has shown that few missions require even 24 hours endurance.

For that reason, the air force decided not to give the Reaper an inflight refueling capability. The Reaper also carries sensors equal to those found in targeting pods like the Sniper XL or Litening, and flies at the same 20,000 foot altitude of most fighters using those pods. This makes the Reaper immune to most ground fire, and capable of seeing, and attacking, anything down there. All at one tenth of the price of a manned fighter aircraft. The air force expects to stop buying the Predator in four years, and switch over to the Reaper, and new designs still in development.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close