Nearly one in five of the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft missions against the Islamic State involves strikes against the militants, according to Air Forces Central Command.
MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, armed with Hellfire missiles, have flown a third of the Air Force’s sorties against Islamic State militants since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, providing intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. The unmanned aircraft have hit ISIS targets on 17 percent of those sorties, according to AFCENT statistics provided to Air Force Times.
About 17 percent, nearly one in five, Nearly one in five (17 percent) of the service’s remotely piloted missions over Iraq and Syria involve targeted strikes, according to AFCENT said.
The Air Force is using the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper for its unmanned airstrike missions for OIR. Both RPAs are equipped to carry Hellfire missiles.
“When comparing manned vs. unmanned aircraft, it’s not important where the aircrew sits to deliver the effects, it’s the effect it delivers that matters,” said AFCENT spokeswoman Lt. Col. Kristi Beckman. “The MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft deliver persistent attack and reconnaissance and are vital complements to the AFCENT inventory. Both of these platforms, like our manned aircraft, bring different but indispensable qualities to the fight.”
Although MQ-1s are nearing the end of their service life, they are now flying just as often as F-15Es.
The phased retirement of the Predator is set begin later this year, and all MQ-1s are expected to be out of service by 2018-2019, officials have said. The Air Force wants to move its airmen onto more MQ-9s and has requested 24 more Reapers in its fiscal 2017 budget.
“The 12 MQ-9 aircraft added in FY15 and the addition of 4 more aircraft in FY16 will greatly aid our combat and reconnaissance operations we provide to the combatant commanders,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, recently told Congress.
“Air Force MQ-1s and MQ-9s currently fly 60 combat lines every day. Each combat line can last up to 22 hours,” he stated in his written testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 16.
Carlisle did not specify how many combat lines were specifically being flown for missions against the Islamic State.
It is also likely that some of the missions are being flown for the CIA, but the agency declined to comment on the matter.