The IAI RQ-5 Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was originally
intended to serve as the United States Army’s Short Range UAV system
for division and corps commanders. It took off and landed (using
arresting gear) on runways. It used a gimbaled EO/IR sensor to relay
its video in real time via a second airborne Hunter over a C-band
line-of-sight data link. The RQ-5 is based on the Hunter UAV that was
developed by Israel Aircraft Industries.
System acquisition and training started in 1994 but production was
cancelled in 1996 due to concerns over program mismanagement. Seven
low rate initial production (LRIP) systems of eight aircraft each were
acquired, four of which remained in service: one for training and
three for doctrine development, exercise, and contingency
support. Hunter was to be replaced by the RQ-7 Shadow, but instead of
being replaced, the Army kept both systems in operation because the
Hunter had significantly larger payload, range, and time-on-station
capabilities than the Shadow.
In 1995, A Company, 15th Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial
Exploitation) out of Fort Hood, TX was the first Army field unit
equipped with the Hunter. A Company conducted multiple successful
training rotations to the National Training Center. Then in March
1999, they were deployed to the Republic of Macedonia in support of
NATO operations in Kosovo. During the 7 month operation, the Hunter
was flown over 4,000 hours. Significant operational success in Kosovo
led to resumption of production and technical improvements. Hunter was
used in Iraq and other military operations since then. The system was
also armed with the Viper Strike munitions.
The Army’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion at Fort
Huachuca, AZ trained soldiers and civilians in the operation and
maintenance of the Hunter UAV.
In 2004, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of
Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine utilized the
Hunter under a trial program for border patrol duties. During this
program, the Hunter flew 329 flight hours, resulting in 556
A version armed with the Northrop Grumman GBU-44/B Viper Strike weapon
system is known as the MQ-5A/B.
As of October 2012, the U.S. Army had 20 MQ-5B Hunters in
service. Retirement of the Hunter was expected to be completed in
2013, but Northrop was awarded a support contract for the Hunter in
January 2013, extending its missions into 2014.
On 7 October 2013, the U.S. Army opened a UAS facility at Vilseck Army
Airfield in Germany. A letter of agreement between the U.S. and
Germany allows the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command to
use two ‘air bridges’ in the east of the country to train operators,
marking the first time a U.S. UAV will fly beyond the limits of
military training areas. Two unarmed MQ-5B Hunters were used solely
for training drone operators.
From 1996 to January 2014, the MQ-5B Hunter unmanned aerial system
flew over 100,000 hours with the U.S. Army.
On 14 March 2014, an RQ-5 was reported downed by a Crimean
self-defense unit over Russian occupied Ukrainian territory,
although Russia did not substantiate the claim and the Pentagon denies
it operated such a vehicle over Crimea.
On 16 December 2015, the Hunter flew its final flight in Army service
at Fort Hood. Since entering service in 1995, the aircraft had been
deployed to the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It was deployed to the
Balkans four times between 1999 and 2002, accumulating 6,400 flight
hours, and was the first Army UAS to cross into Iraq in 2003, proving
itself for the first time in contingency operations as an intelligence
asset to commanders at all levels and flying more hours than any other
NATO reconnaissance platform. One capability unique to the Hunter was
its relay mode that allowed one aircraft to control another at
extended ranges or over terrain obstacles. By the end of Operation New
Dawn in 2011, Hunters had flown more than 110,000 hours, its
battlefield success clearly showing the value of UASs in combat
operations as a direct result. While Army operators transitioned to
the larger and more capable MQ-1C Gray Eagle, the Hunter is being
transferred to government-owned, contractor-operated units supporting