The US Air Force will continue buying General Atomics MQ-1 Predator A unmanned air vehicles and is unlikely to place substantial orders for the larger MQ-8 Predator B in the near- to medium-term, says secretary of the air force James Roche.

Development of the Predator B will be evolutionary "as the forerunner of things to come in the future, and new UAVs and RPAs [remotely piloted aircraft] are on the way. We should not rush into large-scale production runs of some of these vehicles. It is simply too early, particularly since this could function as the obstacle to the innovation that has been so successful to date." Roche adds Predator A is a "less expensive razor blade" than Predator B.

Roche says that while Predator B is on order, this will not lead to an automatic decision to use it to replace Predator A. "Predator A has been bloodied in conflict and our operators are beginning to develop concepts of operation that are expanding the effects we can achieve. So that as we develop Predator B, our hunter-killer version, we are in no rush to kill the A. It has been operationally effective and offered a real world laboratory for experimentation," he says.

Predator A has also been "the conceptual starting point for many of the innovations we will incorporate in the B". Roche says the newer version should not be "a bigger A model that flies faster, weighs more and is twice the price. Rather it should be dramatically different and used in circumstances that demand different capabilities."

Source: Flight International