The U.S. Air Force has announced the loss of an MQ-9 Reaper drone in the island nation of the Seychelles. The drone crashed at the international airport in the Seychelles capital of Mahe this morning. The accident is under investigation.
The MQ-9 Reaper is a remotely operated aircraft carrying a number of sensors and cameras. It is also capable of carrying Hellfire missiles or laser guided bombs. The drone is operated by a crew of two, a pilot and a sensor/weapons operator. It has a range of 1,150 miles and can reach an altitude of about 50,000 feet. Its cruising speed is 230 mph.
The Seychelles is a U.S. ally in the anti-terror and anti-piracy efforts in East Africa. The UAVs and a number of P-3 Orion long range patrol aircraft are stationed there. Along with providing increased security offshore of the islands, the aircraft and the drones can fly throughout the Gulf of Aden, and overfly Somalia. The Reaper is rumored to have been used for a number of attacks on Islamist militants in Somalia and Yemen.
It is unclear where the drone was flown from. Bases such as that in the Seychelles provide fuel, maintenance and housing for the drones but their pilots are often thousands of miles away. While some UAVs can be flown from locations in the Central Command or Africa Command area of operations, many are flown from bases in the U.S. The Los Angeles Times published a February 2010 article on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, from which many of the drones are controlled. Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico is another such site in the U.S.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are currently in use by all U.S. military services. Smaller drones are used for sensor and camera operation, as well as designating targets with a laser. The larger drones such as the Reaper can carry weapons. Other uses for drones are emerging. A Global Hawk UAV was used to obtain the first overhead photos of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors. The U.S. Border Patrol is using Predator drones.