Danger Room: Predator Drones Weren’t Always Defenseless. Not That It Helped.


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A Predator drone over Afghanistan in 2006. <em>Photo: Air Force</em>

A Predator drone over Afghanistan in 2006. Photo: Air Force


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.

Read the rest at Danger Room.


3 Responses to “Danger Room: Predator Drones Weren’t Always Defenseless. Not That It Helped.”

  1. Logan says:

    I have to agree with not putting air-to-air weapons on general MALE/HALE UAVs at the current time. They’re small enough right now that even the slight increase in payload caused by a Stinger or Sidewinder is going to cut into their endurance. Only two drones have been lost to air-to-air combat so far that I’m aware of and one of those was armed, so I think that cutting the endurance of every drone in the air by an hour or two in the hopes of getting a lucky hit isn’t worth it. Apparently the Air Force agrees. In fact, Su-25s over Afghanistan made it back to base after being hit by Stingers and Sidewinders so there’s no guarantee it would have even shot down its attacked if it had gotten that lucky hit!

  2. jim says:

    Hi Mr Axe, I just read today (Friday Nov 16 2012) that an F-22 has crashed in or near Florida. Could be some other fighter becoz if it was an F-22 the news would have quickly gotten covered up by Panetta.

  3. Aziz Javed says:

    More damage is being dished out to the US intelligence community as sources in Iran admit to hacking the CIA’s lost drone and bringing it down with not much more than computer navigating know-how.

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