How the Predator UAV Works

In Battle

A Predator MQ-1 comes in for a landing after firing one of its Hellfire Missiles.
A Predator MQ-1 comes in for a landing after firing one of its Hellfire Missiles.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

The only thing better than having a robotic airplane assist forces in making decisions about how to fight a battle is to have a robotic airplane actually fight the battle for you. That is where the Predator UAV MQ-1 Hunter/Killer comes into play. Replacing the camera array with the Multispectral Targeting System (MTS) and loading the Predator with two Hellfire missiles transforms this battlefield spotter into a deadly automated combatant. The 'M' in MQ-1 is the Defense Department designation for multipurpose aircraft; by adding the MTS and Hellfire missiles to the Predator, it truly becomes a multifunctional battle aircraft.

The MTS includes the AGM-114 Hellfire missile targeting system, electro-optical infrared system, laser designator, and laser illuminator. All of these components give the Predator and its operators multiple ways to acquire a target in any combat environment. The Predator fires a laser or infrared beam from the MTS ball located near the nose of the plane. This laser can be used in two ways:

  • The beam lands on the target and pulses to attract the laser seekers at the end of each Hellfire missile.
  • The on-board computer uses the beam to makes calculations about trajectory and distance.

Sensors bundled in the MTS also calculate wind speed, direction, and other battlefield variables to gather all of this data into a firing solution. This process is known as "painting the target." Once a target is painted, the MQ-1 can unleash its own missiles to destroy the target or send the firing solution to other aircraft or ground forces so they can destroy it.