Military Drones and UAVs – Predator UAV

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have been in use since the late 19th century. A UAV may be anything from a balloon to a self-propelled aircraft guided by computer like the Predator UAV now in widespread use.

There are many advantages to using UAVs. They can enter areas that would be too dangerous for a manned craft. Because they do not have to be designed around the needs of a pilot they can be much smaller and lighter than conventional aircraft, thereby saving on both materials and fuel. They can remain in continuous flight for many hours, limited only by the amount of fuel they can carry, and perform repetitive routines that would be wearing for a human pilot.

Modern UAVs are employed in both military and civilian contexts. Their functions include surveillance, research, data recording and combat roles.

MQ-1 Predator

By U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Predator Development and Specifications

The Predator is a UAV developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Powered by a Rotax 914 four-cylinder engine, it has a 49-foot wingspan and can carry a 450-pound payload. It has an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet and a top speed of 135 miles per hour.

In the early 1990s, the need for an unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft was recognised. The Predator programme began development in 1994, and the Predator UAV, designated RQ-1, entered production in 1997. The Predator was upgraded in 1998, with a more powerful engine and increased capacity for deployment in adverse weather conditions. The capacity to carry and deploy AGM-114 Hellfire missiles was also added, and aircraft thus equipped were designated MQ-1, indicating their multi-role function.

As well as cameras and radar, the MQ-1 is fitted with the Raytheon multi-spectral targeting system and can also carry mission-specific components, for example a rangefinder or a moving target indicator.

A Predator Unmanned Aircraft System comprises four Predators, a ground control station and a satellite link. Each Predator is flown remotely by a pilot, while a second crew member operates sensors and weapons.

The type is currently operational with the United States Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Air National Guard and the United States Customs and Border Protection. In addition, six Predators have been delivered to the Italian Air Force.

The larger MQ-9 Reaper is a development of the Predator.

Predator Deployment and Service History

The Predator first saw operational service in the Balkans in 1995, flying reconnaissance missions over the former Yugoslavia. Since then the Predator has been deployed in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. In 2000, Predators were involved in an effort to locate Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Predator UAVs took part in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2002 and in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009.

In addition to reconnaissance and attacks on ground targets, Predators can provide air support to ground troops or to manned aircraft, and engage in air to air combat with conventional fighter aircraft.


The military use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is increasing in both scale and scope as the technology improves. Utilising UAVs can save both financial costs and loss of human life. It is to be expected that the United States will continue to expand and develop its UAV programme.  Meanwhile, other countries are developing their own UAV programmes even if they are limited to small scale domestic use.