The mystery of a downed drone in Pakistan

October 2, 2008

Last week, the Pakistan Army said it had recovered the wreckage of an unmanned aerial vehicle in the South Waziristan region, but it didn’t identify the aircraft.

The United States military, which has stepped up flights of the Predator, its main unmanned aerial vehicle, on the Afghan-Pakistan border and into Pakistan in recent months, said none of its planes had gone down inside Pakistan. One of its aerial vehicles had crashed but that was in Afghanistan, about  60 miles west of the Pakistani border and U.S. forces had immediately recovered the aircraft.

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So whose unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was it that the Pakistan military found and why have they not revealed its identity? Tribesmen earlier said they had brought down the plane with fire, but the Pakistan military said there weren’t any bullet marks and it appeared to have crashed because of  mechanical failure.

If it was a Predator and this is  by no means certain, then you can narrow down the list to a small group of countriies.  Predator-maker General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.   names the Italian Air Force, the Turkish army and the Royal Air Force (RAF) as customers of the Predator family of unmanned spy planes, besides the United States. All three have forces in Afghanistan but so far none has been known to fly missions into Pakistan.

Danger Room blog, which has been asking the same question about the downed drone,  says a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc spokesman said they also have classified sales which they wouldn’t discuss.

 So what really is going on in the skies over Pakistan’s northwest ? Are there other players getting involved in the face of now almost visceral opposition to strikes by the United States? There aren’t any obvious answers out there.

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Or perhaps it wasn’t a Predator at all, and was some other pilotless surveillance plane. Which then opens a whole range of countries that fly such planes including Pakistan itself, and even India. Reuters quotes a Pakistani intelligence official as saying that the aircraft that they recovered was about 3 feet (1 meter) long with a wingspan of about 5 feet. If those dimensions are correct, that would make the aircraft much smaller than the Predator.

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