The Air Force has already begun transitioning from the MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft to the MQ-9 Reaper, but the Predator will be officially retired by summer 2018.
Airmen have flown the Predator for the past 21 years, but the Reaper can fly faster and carry more munitions, according to the Defense Department.
In the past, RPAs were mostly used for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, but current threats require more precise close-air support. The Predator wasn’t originally designed to carry weapons, which resulted in a 200-pound payload. The Reaper, however, boasts a nearly 4,000-pound payload.
In June, the latest version of the Reaper flew its first successful combat mission. The Block 5 variant of the unmanned aerial vehicle flew a sortie of more than 16 hours in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to the Air Force.
The Reaper flew with a full payload of weapons ranging from Joint Direct Attack Munitions to Hellfire missiles.
The MQ-9 Reaper has been used for the past 10 years, but this latest variant offers improved electrical and communications systems.
By retiring the Predator, the Air Force will also save money on training and equipment because everything will be specific to the Reaper.