Over 400 drones ranging from palm-sized helicopters to a $16m combat-capable Reaper have been lost in action, blown up, or simply stopped working over the past five years, the British military has admitted. The Ministry of Defence has not put a final total on how much the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) deployment, which has taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq, has cost, but a new report on drone incidents has detailed the breadth of losses involved, the Guardian reports.
The single most expensive loss is probably that of a Reaper drone, which is capable of carrying both reconnaissance technology as well as Hellfire missiles for actively attacking remote targets. With a price tag of around £10m ($16m) it is yet to be replaced; it’s unclear whether it was hostile destruction, pilot error, a fault with the UAV itself, or problems recovering the downed hardware – all reasons for drone losses given by the MoD – that was at fault.
Far more common, however, are smaller drones falling out of service. 412 of the UK army’s Desert Hawk 3 drones – which resemble hobby airplanes – have been destroyed or otherwise lost in the half-decade period, while the Black Hornet and Tarantula Hawk “micro air vehicle”, both smaller models, have totalled 25 losses.
However, the MoD did admit to having lost nine of its Hermes 450 UAVs, costing £1m ($1.6m) apiece, a total of half its overall fleet. Work in Afghanistan has been responsible for the vast majority of Hermes 450 losses; the drone is not intended for active attack use, but instead for surveillance and communications backup.
In its defense, the MoD points out that drones are often used for reconnaissance in areas where manned investigation would previously have been relied upon, reducing the potential risk to soliders and technicians. It also says that no deaths or injuries – presumably of its own personnel – have resulted from UAV crashes or losses. Meanwhile, the potential risks involved in recovering a downed drone in unfriendly territory can often lead to the hardware being abandoned.
Earlier this month, US law enforcements conducted what is believed to be the first drone manhunt on US soil, searching for fugitive Christopher Dorner who was later killed outside of Los Angeles after a standoff with police. Last year, meanwhile, drone researchers revealed they had been working on nuclear-powered solutions for extended-deployment UAVs, which would be able to remain airborne for months at a time. However, the project apparently ended without prototypes being constructed.