Military drones continue to tumble to earth

Bayraktar drone downed in Libya 30 March 2020

The Drone Wars drone crash database has been updated with a further nineteen crashes of large (Class II and III) military drones; thirteen since the beginning of 2020 and six from 2018/19 only recently revealed. While there have been many claims and counter-claims of drones shot down in Syria, Yemen and Libya, we continue to include only crashes/downings that have been verified by photographs or video. Recording the crash of large military drones is an important means of monitoring the proliferation of these systems as well as documenting their inherent risk – see our report Accidents will happen – for more details.

Half of the dozen or so drones brought down to earth since the beginning of the year were Turkish, reflecting their increasing use. The crashes occurred in Turkey (1), Libya (4) and Syria (2), with five of the seven apparently being brought down by enemy fire. Altogether, six verified drone crashes occurred in Libya in the first quarter of 2020, further evidence that it is currently the epicentre of drone warfare.  Libyan groups (and Syrian state media) have claimed they have downed many more Turkish drones but these claims have not been verified with photos or videos – although this of course does not mean they didn’t happen.

Turkish Bayraktar drone crash shortly after take-off (March 2020)

UAE-operated CH-4 ‘Rainbow’downed in Yemen (Jan 2020)

Chinese CH-92 crash in Cambodia (Jan 2020)

Shahed-129 crash in Iran (Jan 2020)

Other military UAV crashes so far in 2020 include a US Gray Eagle in Niger; a Saudi Arabian operated CH-4 shot down in Yemen; a UAE-operated Wing Loong in Libya, a Chinese CH-92A in Cambodia; an Iranian Shahed-129 in Iran, and an unknown drone –  possibly operated by the GNA –  in Libya (for details see the database).

A USAF Investigation report published in January detailed the previously unknown crash of a MQ-9 Reaper drone in September 2018, but did not disclose the location of the crash.  USAF drone crashes up until the end of 2017 were regularly detailed in crash investigation reports but the release of these reports has become much rarer since then, even though, of course, USAF drones have continued to crash.

Journalist Oriana Pawlyk obtained details of USAF aircraft crashes during US Fiscal Year 2019 which included 3 new to us, including the crash of a secret US drone which was downed shortly after take-off.

As well as the crash of this secret drone, a prototype of the US’ new X-61A ‘Gremlins’ drone crashed in Utah during a test flight in November 2019.  While the company developing the drone, and the Department of Defence insisted the test was a success, the drone crashed as it attempted to land due to the failed deployment of a parachute.  Perhaps even more embarrassing was the crash of the first production model of a new type of the French Patroller drone that fell out of the sky on its way to being delivered to the French army.

With the latest figures for 2018 and 2019 added to the database, we are able to get an overview from drone crashes over the past five years (2015-2019) of who is now developing and using large military drones and, for the largest use – the US – where those drones are being used.



As always, if you come across details of a military drone crash, that isn’t in our database, do let us know.

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