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Versatile weapon

April 10, 2011

The Predator is a medium-altitude, propeller-driven drone used for surveillance and attacks on ground targets. The 27-foot- long craft is flown remotely by a pilot at a ground station and can remain aloft for as long as 24 hours at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet.

It is equipped with multiple cameras, including an infrared device that enables it to produce live video at night. The aircraft can carry two Hellfire missiles. A more heavily armed version, the MQ-9 Reaper, can carry satellite-guided bombs and four missiles.

The Air Force has 165 Predators and 70 Reapers, with 130 deployed to Afghanistan and other overseas locations. The Central Intelligence Agency has an unknown number of Predators and Reapers in use over Pakistan and other places, according to counter-terrorism officials.

CIA-controlled drones are estimated to have killed more than 180 suspected militants in Pakistan since President Obama took office. Some human rights advocates have condemned those attacks as extrajudicial killings.

U.S. Air Force drones in Afghanistan carry out conventional military operations, providing air cover and surveillance for American and allied ground troops.

— David S. Cloud

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