The United States Air Force (USAF) shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on Sunday morning after it lost control of the aircraft over a remote area in Northern Afghanistan.
The USAF does not know how or why operators lost control of the MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aircraft System. "We do not speculate on the cause of an aircraft mishap," Captain Frank Hartnett, a spokesman for the Air Force, told Security Management. An investigation, however, will be conducted to find an answer, he said.
The Reaper was flying a combat mission when operators lost "positive control" of the UAV, or the ability to establish connections and send control inputs to the remote-controlled aircraft. When operators noticed the UAV was bound to exit Afghani airspace and all efforts to reestablish communication with the machine failed, the Air Force deployed an F-15E Strike Eagle to destroy it.
The fighter jet fired one Sidewinder missile at the Reaper, causing the UAV to crash into a mountain side. There was no report of civilian casualties or damage to civilian property, according to a USAF statement.
Harnett said the USAF has no knowledge of any similar incidents happening before. "This is the first MQ-9 Reaper crash that was due to loss of control," he said.
The unit cost of Reaper drones, which includes four aircraft with sensors, is $53.3 million in fiscal 2006 dollars, according to the USAF. The UAVs are manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
The use of these "persistent hunter-killers," as they are described by the USAF, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan has caused considerable controversy after drone attacks have reportedly killed innocent people, stirring up anger, fear, and resentment among local populations.
On Monday, a suspected U.S. drone attack killed four militants allegedly with ties to Al Qaeda and Pakistan's Taliban in North Waziristan. The missile strike destroyed a vehicle carrying both foreign and local militants, Voice of America reported. The third drone attack within a week, the strikes have killed a total of 18 suspected militants.
♦ Photo of a fully-armed MQ-9 Reaper by cryogenic666/Flickr