(Reuters) - Iran on Thursday shot down a U.S. military drone it said was on a spy mission over its territory. Washington said the aircraft was targeted in international air space in “an unprovoked attack.”
The Global Hawk drone, made by Northrop Grumman Corp, is used for intelligence-gathering over water and coastal areas, and costs around $130 million, according to industry experts.
The downing of the drone was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region, fanning fears of wider military conflict in the Middle East as U.S. President Donald Trump pursues a campaign of isolating Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and role in regional wars.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk, is designed to gather near real-time, high-resolution images in all types of weather and during day and night.
Here are some facts about the Global Hawk, which is considered to be one of the U.S. military’s most sophisticated unmanned aircraft, according to an Air Force statement of the aircraft’s capabilities.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is designed to fly at high altitudes of up to 60,000 feet (18 km), according to Northrop Grumman’s website. Commercial passenger aircraft typically fly at altitudes of between 31,000 and 38,000 feet, or 9 to 11 km.
The drone can fly for up to 32 hours and has a range of up to 12,300 nautical miles, or 22,780 km.
With a length of 44 feet (13 meters), a wingspan of 116 feet (35 meters), and a gross weight of 25,600 pounds (12 tonnes), the Global Hawk is comparable in size to Lockheed Martin Corp’s U-2 reconnaissance aircraft or a small business jet.
In the early 2000s, both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force began buying Global Hawks. The Navy in a 2004 statement said the Air Force bought four Global Hawk aircraft at roughly $360 million. According to a 2013 news release by Northrop Grumman, the company has since delivered a total of 37 Global Hawks to the Air Force.
The Navy in recent years has been buying MQ-4C Triton drones, which have a 130-foot (40-meter) wingspan, slightly larger than the Global Hawk. The Navy in March requested two MQ-4 Tritons and budgeted $473 million for those aircraft and associated equipment.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk made its first flight on Feb. 28, 1998, and has since amassed more than 250,000 flight hours, including in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa and the greater Asia-Pacific region, according to the company website.
Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York and Mike Stone in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis