Crash of the Drones

This Predator drone crashed near Creech airforce base in April 2009

Today’s LA Times has an interesting article about US Predator and Reaper drone crashes compiled from Pentagon accident reports.   The article reports that  “thirty-eight Predator and Reaper drones have crashed during combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and nine more during training on bases in the U.S. — with each crash costing between $3.7 million and $5 million. Altogether, the Air Force says there have been 79 drone accidents costing at least $1 million each”.  These reports do not, of course, include details about crashes of the CIA’s Predator’s in Pakistan.

In a sign of how touchy the General Atomics, producer of the Reaper and Predator drones are about criticism of their wonderful toy, Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., President of the aircraft systems group at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego is quoted in the article saying

“These airplanes are flying 20,000 hours a month, OK?  That’s a lot of flying.   Some get shot down. Some run into bad weather. Some, people do stupid things with them. Sometimes they just run them out of gas.”

According to the Air Force reports, one drone crashed into a Sunni party headquarters in Mosul which must have been embarrassing.   Another Predator drone was simply reported as ‘lost somewhere in Afghanistan’ after contact was lost and no wreckage found. 

When one of the UK’s Reapers crashed in Afghanistan in April 2008, the SAS was sent in to recover “sensitive technology” before it was blown up.  The Sun provided a helpful slideshow and report!

Drone goes rogue again

Less than a week after the US government deployed Predator drones over the US-Mexico border  the flights have been temporarily halted  after a Predator drone ‘went rogue’.   According to a US Customs statement to a local Texas paper the drone experienced a “communications loss“.  

This is not the first time that a predator or reaper drone has gone ‘rogue’ – the term used when the remote control of a drone is lost.  Apparently a short loss of communication between drones and their remote pilots is not unusal but when it is for an extended period of time, panic ensues.  Last September (2009) the US Air Force had to shoot down one of its own drones  in Afghanistan when it went rogue and threatened to leave Afghan airspace. Perhaps the most famous ‘rogue drone’ story concerns a smaller Israeli-made Orbiter drone, being used by Irish peacekeepers in Chad in 2008 which, after a communication loss with its operator decided to head home to Ireland -some 5,000 kilometers away.   Needless to say it didn’t make it and crashed.

As pressure grows to allow drones to operate in the UK drone manufacturers and operators are desperate to show that drones are ‘the safe security option’. Each drone that goes rogue shows this is not the case.