U.S. MQ-9 Reaper Drones Aid in Hostage Search Amid Israeli Strikes in Gaza

Several U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones have been spotted circling over Gaza in response to the ongoing Israeli military operations, according to U.S. officials and sources who spoke to Reuters. These flights are part of a mission to locate hostages, including 10 U.S. citizens.


The MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics, is an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of hovering at approximately 50,000 feet for over 27 hours, collecting data through advanced cameras, sensors, and radars. The drone, which has a wingspan of 66 feet, is powered by a Honeywell engine and can carry up to 3,900 pounds of fuel. It can reach a top speed of 240 knots.


The Reaper, which has been in service with the U.S. Air Force for 16 years, can be armed with air-to-ground missiles. It has also been purchased by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NASA, and several international air forces. The drones deployed over Gaza were unarmed and utilized their onboard sensors to search for hostages. They are equipped with high-powered cameras that can detect heat and operate in low-light conditions. Reports indicate that at least six drones have been used, focusing on southern Gaza. According to Amelia Smith, an aviation researcher quoted by the New York Times, the Reapers typically hover over the area for about three hours at an altitude of about 25,000 feet. This is believed to be the first time U.S. drones have flown over Gaza.


Drones offer a cost-effective and safer alternative to manned aircraft, costing approximately $3,500 per flight hour compared to $8,000 for an F-16, as stated by General Atomics. The U.S. Air Force estimates the cost of four MQ-9 aircraft, including sensors, a ground control station, and a satellite link, at about $56.5 million. General Atomics asserts that the MQ-9 has demonstrated air-to-air weapons capability in Air Force tests and can be equipped with a "Self Protect Pod" to detect threats and deploy countermeasures against surface-to-air weapons.

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