Evolution of the USAF Combat Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA)

MQ-9 Reaper on flight line at Creech Air Base, Nevada. The RPA can carry four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs. It can fly for a 18-24 hour mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen).
MQ-9 Reaper on flight line at Creech Air Base, Nevada. The RPA can carry four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs. It can fly for a 18-24 hour mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen).

The idea or concept of using remotely piloted aircraft or RPA for reconnaissance purposes has been around for a long time. In the early 1980s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) outfitted drones with modern-day technology. The early remotely piloted vehicles (RPAs) were the GNAT 750 – which led to the development and production of the RQ-1 Predator in the early 1990s. The Predators would soon be flying over the Balkans in the 1990s conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

The armed RPA (or drone as some refer to RPAs) came about in the early 2000’s. The MQ-1 Predator was retrofitted to carry the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile. It would soon see action in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and . . . perhaps a few other locations around the world.

Read more about the history of armed drones in “The evolution of the combat RPA”, by Senior Airman Christian Clausen, 423nd Wing Air Expeditionary Public Affairs, December 18, 2016.

About John Friberg 155 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.