We don't officially know what weaponry was
used in the strike against
Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The statement released by the White House
doesn't indicate any method, however,
reports from The New York Times and
several anonymous sources confirm it was a drone strike.
[MUSIC] Government officials rarely
comment on the drone program,
so it's difficult to say
exactly how many strikes have been deployed,
but it's known that during Obama's time in office,
his administration deployed
over 500 drone strikes in Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
The US drone program is shrouded in secrecy,
but leaked military documents and first person accounts
can help paint a picture of
just how a drone strike works.
The US uses several types of drones,
but only to carry out attacks, Predators and Reapers.
Of these, the largest and most
powerful is the MQ-9 Reaper.
The MQ-9 Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet.
It can fly at a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet
and carry up to 3,750 lbs.
According to data provided by the US Air Force,
it has a top speed of 230 miles per
hour and a range of 1,150 miles.
On any strike mission,
a drone will be armed with bombs or missiles.
The most common is the AGM-114,
a laser guided missile also known as a Hellfire missile.
The term Hellfire actually refers to a family of
precision missiles designed to localize damage.
Even though drones can be operated remotely,
drone strikes are far from a hands off process.
By the time a drone strike is ordered,
the crew has likely been monitoring the target for weeks.
The strike order is then passed up a chain of approval.
The exact chain of approval is unknown,
but leaked Pentagon papers
provided to the intercept in 2015
indicate that in some instances
the final permission is granted by the president himself.
A 2013 strike in Yemen had to
be approved by 15 people and finally,
the president in order to be carried out.
Once permission is granted,
the drone can be launched.
Even though drones are piloted remotely,
they require an on
the ground crew for launch and retrieval.
After takeoff, control is transferred to
a pilot who could be thousands of miles away,
often at a US Air Force base in Nevada or New Mexico.
Reaper drones are equipped with
two sets of communication tools.
A communication antenna allows
ground crew to control takeoff and landing,
and a satellite communication system
enables remote controlled by a pilot.
This style of control is referred
to as remote split operations.
For a successful strike,
the drone needs to be within
a few kilometers of the target.
If the strike is aimed at an individual,
the target is almost always that person's cell phone.
According to papers obtained by the Intercept,
cell phone use plays
a vital role in tracking and identifying targets.
After the missile is launched,
the drone remains in the air and the pilot monitors
his success of the mission via
the drones onboard cameras.
Piloting a drone is
sometimes compared to playing a video game,
but former drone pilots say that
this comparison is disrespectful and inaccurate.
Through cameras, drone pilots are
often witness to upclose acts of violence,
and drone pilots still report suffering from PTSD.
When it comes to the US military,
drone strikes are primarily used to
target suspected terrorists and terrorist activity,
but it's not always that simple.
According to information obtained by
the Bureau of Investigative Journalism,
between 384 and 807 civilians
were killed by drone strikes between 2008 and 2016.
Whistleblower accounts indicate that
this number may be underreported.
Even though they're stunning pieces of technology,
drones still need to evolve to stay relevant.
So far, drones have been operating in environments
without direct threats but that won't always be the case.
According to the Air Force Times,
the next generation of
unmanned aircrafts is being designed with this in mind.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator
completed it's first flight in March 2019.
The military is anticipating that
greater numbers of drones will
be destroyed in future combat.
This new model is significantly cheaper to manufacture,
making it easier to replace.
It's unclear exactly how the military plans to
use this new drone but one thing is for sure,
no matter how conflicts abroad change,
the US dependence on unmanned aircrafts
isn't going anywhere
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