The U.S. military’s drones are defenseless against enemy fighters — as an incident this month over the Persian Gulf shows. But that wasn’t always the case. In 2002 the Air Force fitted some of its early-model Predator drones with short-range Stinger air-to-air missiles. But even with the right weaponry the robots were likely a poor match for enemy fighters, and the Air Force ultimately stripped them of the missiles.
That decision had ramifications a decade later on Nov. 1, when a pair of Iranian Su-25 attack jet pilots tried their damnedest to shoot down an unarmed Predator conducting what Pentagon spokesman George Little dubbed “routine surveillance” over the Persian Gulf 16 miles off the Iranian coast.
The Predator fled for safer airspace, but not before the Iranians made two passes firing 30-millimeter cannons.
It’s not clear that the now-removed defensive armament would have made any difference in last week’s jet-on-drone violence. The one instance of an air-to-air-armed Predator fighting back against an attacking aircraft resulted in the drone’s destruction. “Best to say that results were inconclusive,” retired Air Force general Dave Deptula tells Danger Room.