Vintage Article: Military Drones ‘Missing’

A U.S. Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stood on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport in Afghanistan. (Massoud Hossaini / AP)

How do military drones go “missing?”

In a (somewhat overlooked) article from June 2014, the Washington Post reported that four U.S. Air Force drones are “missing.”

“Each of the four Predators was armed with Hellfire missiles when they took off into the wild blue yonder, according to Air Force accident-investigation records,” writes the Washington Post.

In each case, the pilots who were flying the Predators by remote control from the ground lost their satellite links with the aircraft, so they couldn’t communicate.

The drones’ transponders also stopped working and they didn’t show up on radar. According to the Washington Post, that can occur if there’s a sudden, complete loss of electrical power. That could be caused, for example, by lightning.

Below are the drones listed:

Drone 1. Date of disappearance: July 21, 2008
Identity: MQ-1B Predator, tail number 05-3135
Last known location: About 100 nautical miles north-northeast of Kandahar Air Base
Unit: 3rd Special Operations Squadron, 27th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command

Drone 2. Date of disappearance: May 13, 2009
Identity: MQ-1B Predator, tail number 07-3183
Last known location: somewhere over Afghanistan, exact location classified
Unit: 15th Reconnaissance Squadron, 432nd Wing, Air Combat Command

Drone 3. Date of disappearance: June 5, 2011
Identity: MQ-1B Predator, tail number 07-3204
Last known location: 60 nautical miles northeast of Jalalabad; very close to Pakistani border
Unit: 20th Reconnaissance Squadron, 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Air Combat Command

Drone 4. Date of disappearance: July 10, 2011
Identity: MQ-1B Predator, tail number 06-3174
Last known location: about 20 miles south of Jalalabad
Unit: 3rd Special Operations Squadron, 27th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command

(Updated to add link, picture)

U.S. Military Has Two Drone Bases In Niger And One In Chad

After months of negotiations, the government of Niger has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

This will be the second U.S. surveillance hub in Niger and third in the region.

It advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counter-terrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent.

In Niamey, Niger’s capital, U.S. and French forces set up neighboring drone hangars last year to conduct reconnaissance flights over Mali, where about 1,200 French soldiers are trying to suppress a revolt from 2012.

It is unclear whether the Pentagon will continue to operate drones from Niamey, about 500 miles southwest of Agadez, though some officials said it was unlikely. About 120 U.S. troops are deployed there at a Nigerien military base adjacent to the international airport.

The third drone base in the region is reportedly in Chad. U.S. surveillance drones have used that base to search for the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram since May 11.

Although officials have not said where those drones have been flying from, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that having the new unit in Chad, which borders the northeastern tip of Niger, will enable longer surveillance flights.

“Locating this force in Chad allows us to spend more time flying over the search area,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III.

The White House approved $10 million in emergency aid on Aug. 11 to help airlift French troops and provide midair refueling for French aircraft deployed to the region.  Analysts said the monetary sum was less important than what it symbolized: U.S. endorsement of a new French plan to deploy 3,000 troops across the region.

Updated to correct the title.