“These UAV flights began after the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel,” Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Pat Ryder said in a brief statement on Friday.
The acknowledgement comes after reporters spotted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on flight-tracking websites. “The US is conducting unarmed UAV flights over Gaza, as well as providing advice and assistance to support our Israeli partner as they work on their hostage recovery efforts,” said Ryder.
The confirmation comes after reporters spotted MQ-9 Reapers, usually operated by American special forces, circling Gaza.
According to reports, at least six drones are being used for surveillance and their flight paths show they have focused mainly on southern Gaza.
Amelia Smith, an aviation researcher cited by the New York Times, said the Reapers typically loitered over the area for about three hours, flying at an altitude of about 25,000 feet.
What are MQ-9 Reaper drones?
As per the US Air Force and the manufacturer, General Atomics, the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle can loiter at altitudes of around 50,000 feet for more than 27 hours, gathering intelligence with sophisticated cameras, sensors, and radars.
It has a 66-foot (20.12 m) wingspan, a Honeywell (HON.O) engine, can carry 3,900 pounds (1,769 kg) of fuel, and has a maximum speed of 240 knots (444 kph).
The Reaper became part of the US air force 16 years ago and was brought by the homeland security department, Nasa, the UK royal air force, the Italian air force, the French air force, and the Spanish air force.
How are drones beneficial?
Drones are usually less expensive than an aircraft with similar functionality or capability, they only cost about $3,500 per flight hour compared to $8,000 per flight hour to operate a surveillance plane. The drones are also safer as there is no need for a pilot or an air force team to be in the craft.
According to the US Air Force, four MQ-9 aircraft with sensors, a ground control station and a satellite link cost about $56.5 million.
Can the MQ-9 defend itself?
General Atomics says the MQ-9 has “demonstrated an air-to-air weapons capability” in Air Force tests. It can also be equipped with a “Self Protect Pod” that can detect threats and deploy countermeasures against surface-to-air weapons.
Does India have MQ-9 drones?
Under an estimated $3 billion-deal that is likely to be signed soon, India is hoping to acquire 31 MQ-9B drones from the US.
The drone deal will involve technology transfer and help bridge the technological gaps faced by the Defence Research and Development Organisation in developing such systems indigenously.
The acquisition of the drones will be under the foreign military sales programme — Washington’s government-to-government method of selling US-built platforms.
India’s defence acquisitions council accorded its acceptance of necessity on June 15 to buy the General Atomics high-altitude long-endurance drones. The Navy will get 15 drones, and eight each will be allocated to the Army and Air Force.
(With inputs from agencies)