Two U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones reportedly collided in Syria over Idlib province, but may also have been engaged by militants on the ground.
Images of burning aircraft crashing to the ground were posted on Twitter. There was speculation that the MQ-9 Reapers were shot down.
The alleged collision took place over Idlib province, an anonymous military official told the Military Times, though offered few other details about the mishap, declining to confirm what caused the crash or what type of drones were involved. Whether the aircraft was fired upon at any point during the incident is also not known, the official added.
Photos and videos circulating online – which show debris falling from the sky and flaming wreckage on the ground – indicate that at least one of the craft was an American MQ-9 Reaper drone, used for both espionage and armed missions.
With no official explanation for the incident, however, speculation was rife on social media, with some suggesting the drones were shot down by Turkish-backed militants, while others posited that a Russian drone had been downed, despite the Times report pinning both crafts as American.
Reaper is a remotely piloted medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset.
Unmanned aircraft can also perform the following missions and tasks: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy/raid overwatch, target development, and terminal air guidance. The MQ-9’s capabilities make it uniquely qualified to conduct irregular warfare operations in support of combatant commander objectives.
A crew comprising a pilot, sensor operator, and mission intelligence co-ordinator flies Reaper from a remote ground control station (GCS). An in-theatre launch and recovery team is responsible for its ground operations.