The Air Force's announcement that the MQ-1 Predator will be retired from service is an interesting development. But what will be done with the 150 retired Predators in the Air Force inventory (per an Air Force fact sheet)?
First, let's crank up some music from Dos Gringos, a couple of F-16 pilots whose call signs were "Trip" and "Snooze." Their single, "Predator Eulogy," seems like appropriate music for this list.
1. Hand them over to other federal agencies
Other government agencies are using unmanned aerial vehicles. The CIA and United States Customs and Border Protection both use this UAV.
A MQ-1 Predator with US Customs and Border Protection. (Department of Homeland Security photo)
What other agencies might like this UAV? How about the Coast Guard, which has the duty of securing maritime borders much longer than the U.S.-Mexico border? CBP could get a larger UAV fleet as well. Perhaps the DEA would like some as well.
This surplus AH-1 Cobra found a new home with the United States Forest Service. (USDA photo)
2. Give them to state and local law enforcement
The DOD has a long tradition of handing over surplus gear to state and local law enforcement. The last Huey in the Army inventory, in fact, was handed over to the Louisiana State Police.
3. Sell them to allies
MilitaryFactory.com notes that Predators are in service with several U.S. allies. Italy, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco all use the MQ-1. Some of the retired birds could be sent as attrition replacements or spare parts sources.
4. Sell them to media outlets
Media outlets who currently use helicopters like the Bell 206 (the civilian version of the OH-58) could find the Predator very useful for traffic reporting. Or, for the really important items: The ratings-boosting high-speed pursuits. Predators have much more endurance.
The P-51 and P-47 sit side-by-side. (Photo by Alan Wilson via WikiMedia Commons)
5. Civilian warbirds
It's happened with P-51s, the F4U Corsair, and a host of other planes (even including Soviet MiGs). So, why not see some of these retired Predators become civilian warbirds?
A QF-16 full scale aerial target from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron takes off on its first unmanned flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Sept. 19, 2013. The 82nd ATRS operates the Department of Defense's only full-scale aerial target program. The QF-16 will provide a fourth generation fighter representation of real world threats . (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Javier Cruz)
6. Target drones
This is what every manned fighter pilot would have as the favored use for retired Predators. The fleet of 150 retired Predators could last for a little bit being expended as live-fire targets.