The US Air Force will redesignate eight General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1 Predator reconnaissance squadrons as "attack" units.

The name chance has been approved by US Air Force leadership in recognition of the ongoing transition to an "all-MQ-9" force.

Even though the Predator has carried weapons since 2002, it's mostly used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

It has two hard points to carry dual Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, whereas the huskier MQ-9 has six hardpoints and a payload capacity of 1,360kg (3,000lbs), or four Hellfire missiles and two 227kg (500lbs) laser-guided bombs.

MQ-1 Predator - USAF

USAF began operating the 'RQ-1' in 1996

US Air Force

"The redesignation anticipates the air force's ongoing transition to an all MQ-9 fleet and acknowledges the capability of these units to support military operations that can include strikes against targets," the service announced on 11 April.

"The air force has also authorised [remotely piloted aircraft] aircrews to log combat time when flying an aircraft within designated hostile airspace, regardless of the aircrew's physical location."

The changes, approved by USAF chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh, came about as part of US Air Combat Command's culture and process improvement programme, the service notes.

The eight redesignated MQ-1 squadrons reside at Holloman AFB in New Mexico; Whiteman AFB in Missouri; and Creech AFB, Nevada.

The air force has long sought to transition to the MQ-9 and phase out the MQ-1, but war commitments and budget constraints conspired against that original schedule.

The air force revealed last August that it will shift its remaining 130 or so MQ-1s to the boneyard in 2018, except the ground control stations will remain for MQ-9 control.


US Air Force