Given some of the explosive, and some not so explosive, revelations about security contractors, detainee abuse, Iranian involvement, etc. contained in the Wikileaks document dump on Friday afternoon, quite a lot is bound to get overlooked. One of the things I’ve long wondered about is what happens when an Unmanned Air Vehicle crashes in a combat zone – and how prevalent are crashes?
Scanning through the leaked documents over the weekend, it’s interesting to note a new mission that UAVs have helped to invent for infantrymen – UAV recovery. The relevant documents tell the tale of Quick Reaction Forces and patrols being sent out, or rerouted from ongoing missions, to try and recover or locate UAVs that had gone down. In report after report, often unidentified unmanned assets—the only models consistently named are catapult-launched RQ-7 Shadow, the RQ-2 Pioneer, and the hand-launched RQ-14 Dragon’s Eye—lose contact with their ground controllers and go missing, and grunts are sent out the gate to see what they can find. It’s a new mission set for the infantry not seen in previous conflicts, but given the expense and the technologies onboard the aircraft, one that is obviously considered important enough by commanders to put their soldiers’ lives at risk.
Not surprising to note that while American troops are eager to get their assets back, Iraqis are just as anxious to get their hands on these pieces of high-tech gear that fall from the sky. One report from April 2005 notes that after a UAV crashed in a Baghdad backyard, it was picked up by a black car before U.S troops could arrive at the scene.
Another from later that month says while the UAV had been recovered, the "camera pod had been stolen."
And from February of that year, another report details how a UAV crashed in a residential neighborhood, and when American forces arrived, they were told that they are too late—a white car had already picked up the wounded bird and driven off with it in its trunk. While most crashed UAVs were probably the smaller variants, some of the big boys occasionally go down as well. One report from February 2005 details a crashed Predator that appears to have been armed:
THE PILOTS OBSERVED A SECONDARY EXPLOSION BUT COULD NOT CONFIRM THAT THE ___ HAD COOKED OFF. TF -___ IS EN ROUTE ___ THE CRASH SITE. AT ___ THE PATROL HAS VISUAL ON CRASH SITE, BUT ARE NOT APPROACHING UNTIL FIRE HAS GONE OUT. ___ EOD IS ON SITE.
There are several other reports of armed Predators going down, and from what we can tell, they were always recovered, and their Hellfire missiles destroyed.
Pic: A US soldier launches a UAV in Iraq. US Army photo