A Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of a pricy US “Reaper” surveillance drone earlier this week — forcing it to crash into the Black Sea in an incident condemned as “reckless” by the US military.
The collision — and subsequent downing — of the $30 million MQ-9 drone in international waters on Tuesday has raised tensions between Moscow and Washington even further, with officials from both countries blaming each other for what unfolded.
The Pentagon on Thursday released dramatic footage showing one of two Russian Su-27 fighter jets dumping fuel on the drone moments before the warplane struck the propeller.
Still, Russia maintains it did not cause the accident and insists its warplane never made contact with the drone.
As the ordeal continues to develop, here’s what we know about the Reaper:
What is the MQ-9 drone?
The MQ-9 drone — dubbed the “Reaper” — is a large unmanned aircraft system used by the US Air Force.
The aircraft, which is remotely operated by a two-person team, is used to collect intelligence with sophisticated cameras, sensors and radars. It also used to conduct surveillance, search and rescue missions and even precision strikes, according to the US military.
The drone, which can be armed or unarmed, was used routinely during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for both surveillance and airstrikes. The aircraft was also used to take out top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 and is believed to have done the same to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan last year.
How much does it cost?
The average cost of a MQ-6 drone is about $30 million.
The Reaper — which first began operating in 2007 — costs about $3,500 per flight hour, according to its maker, General Atomics.
How big is it?
The MQ-9 Reaper is about 36 feet long and 12 feet high, with a 66-foot wingspan.
It weighs roughly 4,900 pounds.
What are its capabilities?
The Reaper can carry up to eight laser-guided missiles, including Hellfire missiles and other sophisticated munitions.
It also can carry up to 3,900 pounds of fuel.
The MQ-9 drone has the capability to loiter over targets at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet for more than 27 hours.
According to General Atomics, the MQ-9 has “demonstrated an air-to-air weapons capability” in Air Force tests.
It can also be equipped with a “Self Protect Pod” that allows for threats to be detected and deploy countermeasures against surface-to-air weapons.
How does it operate?
The MQ-9 is operated remotely by a team that includes a rated pilot who is tasked with flying the drone and an enlisted aircrew member who is responsible for operating the sensors and guiding weapons.
With Post wires
A multi-lingual talent head, Allen is fluent in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and many more. He has a special curiosity for the events and stories revolving in and around US and caters an uncompromising form of journalistic standard for the audiences.