The Air Force intends—once again—to divest itself of the MQ-1 Predator and transition to an all-MQ-9 Reaper fleet of medium-altitude remotely piloted aircraft, Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and requirements, said Friday. Speaking with reporters about the Fiscal 2017 budget request, Holmes said the Air Force intends to phase out the Predator completely “by the end of ’18,” focusing on buying new Reapers to replace them, as well as buying the extended-range upgrade kit for nearly the entire fleet of MQ-9s. Only 38 Reapers carrying other modifications won’t be given the ER upgrade, which consists of fuel tanks, extended “wet” wings, and extended tail control surfaces. The upgrade increases the Reaper’s endurance from 27 hours to as long as 42 hours when not carrying external stores. USAF tried to phase out the Predator once before, but was directed to keep the type in service to fill out increasing demands for RPA combat air patrols. The Air Force also intends to develop and field improved ground control stations for the Reaper fleet, Holmes said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.