Air Force Drone Crashes in Afghanistan

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in May 2014. Photo: John Bainter/U.S. Air Force
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in May 2014. Photo: John Bainter/U.S. Air Force

KABUL, Afghanistan — An armed U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed in a remote area near Bagram Air Field Tuesday night, military officials said.

The $14 million remotely piloted aircraft went down at about 7:10 p.m., according to an Air Force statement issued Wednesday.

“There is no indication of injuries or damage to civilian property as a result of the crash,” the statement said. “The cause of the crash is currently under investigation, but enemy fire was not a factor.”

The aircraft was operated out of Kandahar Air Field, more than 300 miles away in southern Afghanistan, by the 451st Air Expeditionary Group, part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, said wing spokesman Capt. Bryan Bouchard.

“The aircraft went down in a remote area away from any civilian population centers and it was a total loss,” Bouchard said. “The munitions on board were also destroyed with the aircraft.” Citing the total destruction of the Reaper, officials decided that it “did not necessitate a physical securing of the site,” he said.

While the aircraft was launched from Kandahar, once airborne it was operated by pilots and sensor operators “from one of several control stations outside Afghanistan,” Bouchard said.

With a 66-foot wingspan, Reapers are larger and more powerful than the older MQ-1 Predators. Reapers, heralded as the Air Force’s first “hunter-killer” unmanned aerial vehicles, can stay airborne for up to 14 hours fully loaded with nearly 4,000 pounds of bombs or Hellfire missiles, 15 times the payload of a Predator.

With more weapons and a reduced range compared to the Predator, Reapers are primarily used for attack, rather than surveillance missions. As of September, the Air Force operated 93 Reapers worldwide.

The Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft are among those that have been used to continue an air war in support of beleaguered Afghan forces. American drones also have been used to target reported al-Qaida operatives as well as militants who have declared loyalty to the nascent Islamic State presence in Afghanistan. In October, U.S. Air Force aircraft deployed 203 weapons, the most of any month this year and nearly double the number in September.

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