Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force is preparing to phase out its MQ-1 Predator drones in favor of an all-MQ-9 Reaper fleet in 2018.
The Predator's retirement will effectively conclude the unmanned aerial vehicle's 21 years of service with the Air Force. The platform supported intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the branch in addition to targeted strikes in enemy territory.
In a statement explaining the move, Air Force officials note the more modern MQ-9 Reaper is better equipped, and features overall superior operational capabilities.
"Right now the plan is to stop flying the MQ-1 in 2018, and that means we need to get transitioned this year," Lt. Col James said.
The MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft system capable of performing 24-hour missions, came equipped with a Multi-Spectral Targeting System and air-to-ground Hellfire missiles. The aircraft features a 450-pound payload capacity, a 25,000-foot flight ceiling, and is able to reach cruising speeds around 84 miles per hour.
The MQ-9 Reaper, also built by General Atomics, has a 3,750-pound payload capacity, a 50,000-foot flight ceiling, and is able to reach cruising speeds around 230 miles per hour.
"I think when we look at the legacy of the MQ-1 we're going to be scratching our heads wondering how we did so much with so little," 432nd Operations Group commander Col. Joseph said.