The number of airstrikes being carried out by Predator MQ-1 unmanned aerial vehicles against insurgents in Iraq is growing. USA Today reported April 29 that the Air Force has set a new high mark in April with 11 Predator attacks. This is nearly double the previous high of six during a one-month period set both in November 2006 and July 2007, the newspaper said. The increase coincides with a spike in fighting in Sadr City, a portion of Baghdad, and in Basra in the southern part of the country. The Predator carries two Hellfire ground-attack missiles. Key Predator targets are insurgents firing rockets and mortars into Baghdad’s Green Zone or at other coalition targets. Since July 2007, Predator missions have more than doubled in Iraq, Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Murray, head of the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance division at the combined air and space operations center in Southwest Asia, told the newspaper. The Air Force can currently provide commanders in the Middle East/Near East theater of operations with 23 simultaneous Predator combat air patrols.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.