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US Army retires its first drone

The Hunter recon drone served well for 20 years, but it's time for newer tech to take over.

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Military drones may still seem like relatively fresh concepts, but they're officially old hat as of this month: the US Army has retired its first-ever drone, IAI's Hunter, after 20 (!) years of service. The robotic recon veteran will now see use only through government-owned contractor support units. The troops, meanwhile, will upgrade to the General Atomics Gray Eagle, which boasts better sensors on top of greater endurance (25 hours instead of 12) and a higher altitude ceiling (29,000 feet versus 15,000).

The Hunter had a troubled start (production stopped quickly due to program mismanagement), but it's ending its career on a strong note. Its first operational flights, over the Balkans in 1999, represented a sort of baptism by fire for Army drones -- the Hunter was so successful in the region that production resumed to get more units in the skies. The UAV also served in Iraq from 2003 onward, and developed a reputation for toughness that may be hard to match. While the Hunter's replacement is arguably necessary, it'll definitely be missed.

[Image credit: Dave Conrad, Fort Hood Public Affairs]

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