The Reaper Drone Is a Staple of the U.S. Fleet
The unmanned aircraft that was downed in the Black Sea is used both for surveillance and for targeted attacks.
The unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone is a staple of the United States’ military air fleet and is used both for surveillance and for attacks.
The drone can reach speeds of up to 275 miles per hour and fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet. It is designed for long missions, with some models capable of flying for up to 34 hours, according to its manufacturer, California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
While the Reaper can drop bombs and launch missiles, its slow speed and lack of defensive weapons makes it relatively easy to shoot down.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a newer, larger version of the MQ-1 Predator drone, which the U.S. Air Force used until 2018. The Reapers are faster, have better sensors and can carry more munitions, according to a statement from the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force has paid as much as $32 million for one of them.
Reaper drones are equipped with visual sensors and cameras that make them effective for surveillance. They are flown remotely by a team of pilots and sensor operators on the ground, often far from the drone itself. A pilot controls the takeoff, flight path and landing, while sensor operators control cameras and surveillance equipment.
The United States has used the drones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. While their use in attacks in which civilians were killed has generated criticism, the drones’ defenders have argued that their ability to hit targets with precision minimizes collateral damage.
The United States’ use of the drones in other countries’ airspace also has created tensions over sovereignty.