The USAF announced plans to spend $5.7 billion over the next five years to buy roughly 144 of GA Aeronautical Systems’ Predator UAVs – enough to add 12 squadrons of 12 robotic aircraft each, plus 36 support packages including ground control station, satellite terminals and other equipment. The USAF has accepted 114 Predators as of last month, and lost 26 Predators in combat since 2002. This brings overall losses of the unmanned aircraft from all causes to 46.
“This [procurement] increase,” the Air Force said, “is in response to the escalating demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in the war on terrorism.” The aircraft would be designated for use in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other combat areas.
The Predator was recently upgraded from Advanced Technology Demostrator to Initial Operating Capability, clearing the way for more extensive deployments. The Air Force currently operates three active-duty Predator squadrons based at Nellis Air Force Base and Indian Springs Auxiliary Field, both near Las Vegas, NV. The Air Force plans to set up new Predator squadrons in Texas and Arizona in 2006 and 2007 and in New York state in 2009. Under a “future total force” initiative, the Air Force plans to determine staffing and training requirements for its expanded Predator fleet.