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    HomeMilitaryEscalating Threats: The Vulnerability of the US MQ-9 Reaper in Houthi-Controlled Airspace

    Escalating Threats: The Vulnerability of the US MQ-9 Reaper in Houthi-Controlled Airspace

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    The Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed they downed another American MQ-9 Reaper drone over Yemen’s southern province of Bayda, marking the fifth such incident since October 2023.

    The rebels showcased their capability with footage released showing the drone in the crosshairs of their air defense system before being struck by a missile in a fiery explosion.

    The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has confirmed these reports yet remains reticent on details.

    These repeated losses paint a grim picture of the evolving threats faced by US assets in the region.

    Reapers, which each bear a price tag of around $30 million, are designed to fly at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet and remain airborne for up to 24 hours, yet their loss signifies a substantial financial and strategic setback.

    CENTCOM forces have leveraged these drones to deter attacks on strategic shipping routes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, essential for the safety of commercial and military maritime activities.

    Since 2017, the Houthis have downed US drones.

    An alarming trend exacerbated by the latest incidents, including a Reaper downed over Iraq and another forced down in the Black Sea following an encounter with a Russian fighter jet.

    These losses not only signify a blow to US operations but also cast doubt on the survivability of the MQ-9 in the face of nimble and inexpensive countermeasures.

    Despite these challenges, the MQ-9 Reaper remains an asset with considerable operational success and international demand, as seen with India’s procurement of 31 MQ-9B drones, valued at USD 3.99 billion.

    The MQ-9B will enhance India’s capabilities to monitor strategic sea lanes and has been crucial in India’s defense operations, including a mission that led to the recapture of the hijacked vessel MV Ruen.

    Designed for maximum loitering with a limited payload, it lacks the maneuverability for evasive action.

    Experts and military analysts, including those from the US Military Academy’s Modern War Institute, question the wisdom of fielding such high-cost, vulnerable UAVs without appropriate defensive countermeasures.

    Questions linger about the balance between cost and capability, with cheaper countermeasures potentially neutralizing these high-value drones.

    The downing of the MQ-9 Reaper by means as rudimentary as infrared flares exposing the drone’s vulnerability, specifically to its propeller or sensors.

    Relevant articles:
    US Loses 5th MQ-9 Reaper Drone Since Oct 2023; “Game Changing” UAVs Not Changing Any Game? , EurAsian Times, 05/22/2024
    Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim shooting down another US MQ-9 Reaper drone as footage shows wreckage, Yahoo News Australia, 05/20/2024

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