New variations on the Predator are being created to expand its capabilities. By modifying the airframe and expanding the wing span to 86 feet (26 meters), they will be able to fly the new Predator variations at up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). The new model is called the MQ-9 Altair. It will be used during peace time for scientific and atmospheric research. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard will have their own versions of the new Predator that are used for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The Predator is not the only UAV deployed by the U.S. military. The RQ-2 Pioneer, RQ-3 Dark Star, RQ-4 Global Hawk, RQ-5 Hunter, RQ-6 Outrider, and RQ-7 Shadow have all been used in a reconnaissance capacity since the early 1990s. The Predator and its variations are, however, the only UAVs with a combat role and the UAVs most capable of flying into battle alongside manned warships.
With the proliferation of remotely-operated and automated combat units, the trend in military technology seems to be moving toward missions carried out by automated warriors, with the flesh-and-blood controllers battling safely from behind computer terminals. For more information on the Predator and other remotely-controlled aircraft, check out the links on the next page.