Drone Wars is today publishing a dataset of just over 250 large military drone crashes that have taken place over the past decade (2009-2018). The full dataset is available online here. This post is a brief summary of the data but there is a great deal more detail in our accompanying report which is available here.
Although there continues to be some disagreement about the classification of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), most adhere to the NATO system which divides them into three broad categories based on weight. Class I includes micro, mini and small drones, all under 150kg. Class II are drones that weigh over 150kg but less than 600kg, often referred to as ‘tactical’ drones, while Class III drones are those, including the US Predator and Reaper, that weigh over 600kg.
Our dataset details crashes of Class II and Class III UAVs. These are primarily operated by military forces, but crashes of such systems being operated by companies that develop them, or by civil security forces (such as US Department of Homeland Security), are included. The information within our dataset comes from three primary sources: official air force accident investigations, responses to freedom of information requests and individual press reports. However, it is acknowledged from the outset that due to the secrecy surrounding the use of these systems, other crashes will have occurred which have not been publicised.
There are 254 drone crashes detailed in our dataset. Thirty-five (14%) are Class II with 219 (86%) being Class III drones. The vast number of US drone crashes in the database reflects the dominance of the US in using these systems. Out of the 254 accidents in the database, 178 (70%) were being operated by various branches of the United States military. While a cursory glance at the data would appear to show that the number of US drone crashes have declined over the past three years, official aviation mishap statistics issued by the Pentagon show that in fact they remain relatively stable (see report for more details).
What appears to be happening is that the public acknowledgement (and therefore reporting) of US crashes at the time they occur has declined while the release of official accident investigation reports take a significant amount of time. At the time of writing, the most recent US accident investigation report of a USAF drone crash (released in February 2019) detailed a crash that occurred in August 2017.
The crash data also reflects the increasing proliferation of large military drones over the past decade. In 2009 only two other countries besides the US had crashes of these types of drones. In 2018, nine countries had crashes of these class of drones alongside the US. Overall 19 countries appear in the dataset as having had crashes of large military drones.
After the US, the UK has had the largest number of drone crashes (14) reflecting its long involvement in operating this type of system. Other states with a significant number of crashes include Israel, Turkey, India and Pakistan. In addition, we have included drone crashes when they were being operated by manufacturing companies, and two drones which crashed in 2014 while being operated by the UN peacekeepers. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Drone Wars website.
Click here to download the report (48 PDF pages) on the Drone Wars website.