What is the MQ-9 Reaper drone that collided with a Russian jet?

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(Reuters) – A Russian Su-27 fighter jet struck the propeller of a U.S. military “Reaper” surveillance drone on Tuesday, causing it to crash into the Black Sea in an incident condemned as “reckless’ by the U.S. military.

Below is a description of the MQ-9 “Reaper” drone based on information from the Air Force and its maker, General Atomics.

WHAT IT DOES AND WHO OWNS IT:

The MQ-9 “Reaper” unmanned aerial vehicle can loiter at up to 50,000 feet for more than 27 hours, gathering intelligence with sophisticated cameras, sensors and radars. It has a 66 foot wingspan, a Honeywell engine, can carry 3,900 pounds of fuel and travel at a speed of 240 knots ‘true air speed’.

The Reaper, which was delivered to the Air Force 16 years ago, can also be equipped with weapons such as air-to-ground missiles.

MQ-9s have also been purchased by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NASA, UK Royal Air Force, the Italian Air Force, the French Air Force and the Spanish Air Force.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF DRONES?

Drones are generally less expensive than manned aircraft with similar capabilities, and are safer for operators since they do not require a pilot. Unlike most other aircraft, drones can loiter for hours gathering intelligence material. They cost about $3,500 per flight hour, compared to about $8,000 per flight hour to operate, for example, an F-16, according to General Atomics.

According to the Air Force, for $56.5 million they can purchase four MQ-9 aircraft with sensors, ground control station and a satellite link.

CAN AN 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.

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