The transition from the MQ-1 Predator drone to the MQ-9 Reaper is expected to be complete by 2018, but plans are already underway to make the switch, according to Defense Department officials.

"We need to get transitioned this year, as part of that, we are going to stop flying the MQ-1 completely by July 1, 2017. We will gradually stand up our number of combat lines on the MQ-9, so by the end of the year we are only an MQ-9 squadron," said Air Force Lt. Col. James, the commander of the 20th Attack Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

The MQ-9 is "better equipped than the MQ-1 due to its increased speed, high-definition sensors and the ability to carry more munitions," the Air Force said in a press release.

Currently the 20th Attack Squadron operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which makes the transition process difficult since daily MQ-1 missions are being flown overseas with an upward of 30 percent of the squadron gone at a time.

James said the squadron will not take a day off from combat missions while making the transition to the MQ-9. "We're hitting a home run by going to the MQ-9," he said.