November 21, 2007
MQ-9 UAV Sees Combat

today is fascism day on lemonodor
Hoover Dam illustration by Hugh Ferris

The MQ-9 Reaper, the first UAV designed for combat to be put into service, has seen its first action:

The Reaper, the Air Force's unmanned aerial attack vehicle, was operating over the Sangin region of Afghanistan on the hunt for enemy activity when the crew received a request for assistance from a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. Friendly forces were taking fire from enemy combatants. The JTAC provided targeting data to the pilot and sensor operator, who fly the aircraft remotely from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The pilot released two GBU-12 500-pound laser-guided bombs, destroying the target and eliminating the enemy fighters.

(Some of the details in the article above, from the “official web site of the United States Air Force”, differ from those in the story as reported by the Air Force Times. And The Register has its own take.)

Depending on which particular UAV was involved in this story from last week, the Reaper's first use in combat might have been particularly tragic:

Extraordinarily keen observation by a British Royal Navy officer narrowly averted a potentially tragic friendly fire engagement using a Predator or Reaper UAV.

The UAV operator had been given clearance to engage the targets – a group of 7-10 men - in an operational theater. The men had been identified as hostile forces.

The navy officer, believed to be working as part of a joint US-UK UAV force operating from Creech AFB, Nevada, noticed that the men, while dressed in local attire, did not actually walk in the same manner.

This single observation led to the potential engagement being called off. The group were in fact special forces.

Posted by jjwiseman at November 21, 2007 02:46 PM

That's depressing on several levels. The whole idea of UAVs dropping bombs on people, even our enemies, makes me uneasy. That the first use might have been a friendly fire, is doubly depressing. Worst, if our special forces had really been properly in character, it wouldn't have been possible to tell them apart, and we'd have blown them up. If we can tell they aren't locals over a UAV camera, so can the locals.

Posted by: dr2chase on November 21, 2007 03:21 PM

I've enjoyed your news updates on the UAV technology. I used to want to be a pilot, but finally decided to study computer science because computers should be able to do a better piloting job, anyway!

But, over the last few months, I've started to become much less excited about the U.S. military adventures in other countries.

Ron Paul talks about following the U.S. Constitution and adopting a non-interventionalist foreign policy. I think we'd have a lot more peace and prosperity. I'd like to see UAV technology developed outside of these reckless and morally questionable military uses.

Posted by: Jim on November 21, 2007 04:07 PM
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