American Forces Press Service
May 7, 2008 - A significant unmanned aerial vehicle warfighting milestone was reached more than two years ahead of schedule May 1, with the beginning of the 24th MQ-1 Predator combat air patrol in the global war on terror, Air Force officials announced yesterday. This CAP doubles the around-the-clock Predator capability of last year, two years ahead of the Defense Department's goal of 2010 for 21 Predator CAPs, officials said.
Predators now supply more than 13,400 hours of full-motion video to ground forces every month while conducting armed overwatch, force protection and precision air-to-surface engagements with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.
"The Predator teams have just been doing unbelievable work down there [in the International Zone], and in Baghdad as well," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said recently. "And I think there's some path-breaking work on going here."
Sustaining one CAP 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year typically calls for four aircraft, but for surge operations, the Air Force now maintains 24 continuous CAPs with the total fleet of 76 combat aircraft.
Predator missions are launched by crews at sites in U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility while flown by crews at various locations in the United States. This concept of operations, called remote split operations, allows greater effectiveness in supplying more full-motion video directly to warfighters engaged in combat, officials said. This model of operations nearly triples sustainable combat capability by maximizing the number of available crews and aircraft engaged in combat operations in the global war on terror, Air Force officials said.
Prior to the innovation of remote split operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force used a traditional unit-deployment model developed in the 1990s. The traditional model of rotating units through the theater limited the Air Force to committing only about 30 percent of its Predator forces to combat. Under this remote model, the Air Force commits 85 percent of its aircraft to combat operations.
And just as split operations allow more aircraft in combat, flying the missions from the continental United States reduces the number of Americans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct these missions, officials said, noting that the smaller forward presence reduces American exposure to enemy actions and allows the Air Force to project power without projecting vulnerability.
The Air Force acceleration of Predator capability to combat was made possible by increased production and delivery of Predator aircraft and several personnel actions, including freezing Predator assignments and reassigning pilots from other aircraft and duties to meet the growing demand for full-motion video, officials said. The Air National Guard also has accelerated its Predator commitment in five states, operating six CAPs.
The Air Force plans to expand Predator training by standing up a second Predator training squadron and establish a Predator weapons instructor course in early 2009. This action is necessary to lay the foundation to further increase and enhance joint warfighting capability, officials said.
(From a U.S. Air Force news release.)