Wednesday, Jun. 29, 2011

MQ-1 Predator Aircraft

The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator has been killing terrorists, and some civilians, in the lawless regions of Pakistan since 2004. While officially an Air Force program, it is the CIA that has been conducting the drone flights over Pakistan. While the Predator is unmanned, there is a human on ground — sometimes thousands of miles away — who reviews the incoming imagery and actually pulls the trigger. Initially designed simply to spy, the addition of a pair of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles under the Predator's 55-foot wingspan — combined with its ability to orbit for 10 hours or more over suspected hideouts — has made it a potent, and scary, weapon. In addition to Pakistan, it has flown, armed and unarmed, over Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Libya, Serbia and Yemen. Reports from scenes of Predator strikes along the Af-Pak frontier suggest the drone's invisibility — along with the sudden death wrought by its supersonic Hellfires — is one of the reasons Osama bin Laden decided to move to the Pakistani city of Abbottabad several years ago.

For the inside story on America's military operations around the world, check out Mark Thompson's blog, Battleland: Where military intelligence is not a contradiction in terms.