A US Reaper drone shot another one down using a missile. The incident took place last year and involved an unmanned target drone. It is the first case of a drone shooting down another aircraft. The event was the first one in history which showed how an aircraft was involved in air-to-air combat which was previously done only through the manned aircraft. Colonel Julian Cheater, who is also the commander of the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing talked about the incident in an interview. The 432nd Hunters Wing is present at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, which is responsible for the unmanned precision attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. It was also in support of overseas contingency operations.
An MQ-9 Reaper launched an infrared-guided air-to-air missile against a ‘maneuvering target,’ which was a smaller target drone. The rocket hit the drone directly. The Air Force shoots down target drones regularly, however, this was the first time that an unmanned aircraft was able to shot down another aircraft. The MQ-9 Reaper is a large, heavily armed version of the original MQ-1 Predator drone. It can carry four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and two 500 pound laser or GPS guided bombs.
US military has been using unmanned drones for a long time, and its regular use started in the 9/11 era. Now drones have expanded their mission into the world of air-to-air combat. It was pretty inevitable and there were no technical challenges. The drone took a lot of time to be able to shoot down another aircraft. This is not the first example of an unmanned drone involved in air combat. Many military drones have been shot down over the past 16 years. This started with an incident where an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a Predator drone. In Feb 2018, the Israeli Air Force shot down another drone which belonged to Hezbollah. In another event, a Russian Aerospace Force MiG-29 shot down a Georgian drone.
The air to air missile which was carried by the Reaper drone was perhaps an FIM-92 Stinger missile. It was initially designed as a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile. Stinger was adapted into a potent short-range air-to-air weapon. A Reaper shooting down a small unmanned drone is the future of the unmanned drones taking part as fighters in the form of fleets. The unmanned air to air combat can also be a regular mission for drones very soon. The Pentagon is getting nervous about the prospect of enemy drones on the battlefield. Drone like Reaper can fight their air to air battles and can shoot down surveillance enemy drones efficiently using Stinger missiles.