The Air Force's Newest MQ-9 Reaper Drone Is Now Hunting ISIS

The U.S. Air Force's newest MQ-9 Reaper drone, the Block 5 variant, has begun hunting the Islamic State, the service said.

The medium-altitude drone, nicknamed the "hunter-killer" and made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of San Diego, this week flew its first mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Air Force announced in a release.

The Block 5 variant features updated electrical and communications systems, and works with the new Block 30 cockpit, according to the release.

During the June 23 sortie, the crew of the remotely piloted aircraft fired a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition and two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles at ISIS targets while also providing hours of reconnaissance to support ground forces, the release states.

The release didn't say where the strike occurred, but the U.S. military has seen historic aerial warfare in Syria in recent weeks.

As reported by my colleague Oriana Pawlyk, who spent this week reporting in Southwest Asia, on June 18, a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet scored the military's first air-to-air kill involving a manned aircraft in nearly two decades when it downed a hostile Su-22 Fitter south of Taqbah.

And on June 8 and again on June 20, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles shot down Iranian-made Shaheed drones over At Tanf as the unmanned aerial vehicles approached or dropped munitions near U.S.-backed forces on the ground.

The Air Force is working to replace its fleet of MQ-1 Predators with the bigger MQ-9 Reapers. The phase-out is scheduled to occur by the end of 2018.

As of Sept. 30, 2016, there were 129 Predators and 195 Reapers in the Air Force inventory, according to information compiled by the Air Force Association, an advocacy organization for the service.

-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

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