The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), has released a statement saying that one of its armed MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones, carrying a Hellfire missile, malfunctioned over Niger, Africa.

The drone made an emergency landing near Agadez, Niger, on Saturday according to a military spokesman.

This is the second mishap in the U.S. drone fleet in Niger in the past year. In February 2020, an MQ-1C Gray Eagle had crashed after a mechanical malfunction. 

AFRICOM’s spokesman, Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns, said in a statement to Military Times, “The aircraft experienced a mechanical malfunction while conducting a routine mission in support of operations in the region.”

“The aircraft is under observation by U.S. forces with host nation cooperation and assistance,” Karns added. “Assessment and the process of recovery of the aircraft and safeguarding the site is underway. Due to force protection and operational considerations, this is about all I can say. Early indications reflect a mechanical issue but an investigation is underway.”

The MQ-1C Gray Eagle, which is also known as the Sky Warrior or Extended-Range Multi-Purpose Drone, is used “in surveillance and reconnaissance missions, target acquisition, command, control, communications relay, signals intelligence, electronic warfare, attack, and battle damage assessment, and manned-unmanned teaming capabilities,” according to Karns.

Although we do not yet have confirmation of which Gray Eagle variant the drone is, most Gray Eagles have been replaced by Improved Gray Eagles (IGE).

The Improved Gray Eagle has a maximum gross takeoff weight of 4,200 lb with its 205 hp engine, compared to the Gray Eagle’s 3,600 lb and 160 hp engine. IGE’s engine can sustain an output of 180 hp continuously. The Gray Eagle can carry 575 lb of fuel, while the IGE can carry 850 lb of fuel internally with its deep belly design; its external fuel tanks add 450 lb of extra fuel. The IGE has a range of 50 hours (45 without the external tanks). The IGE also increases internal payload capacity from 400 lb to 540 lb. A special operations configuration can carry two Hellfire missiles and a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) payload for 35 hours, as opposed to the 14-15 hours of the basic Gray Eagle.

The drone being disassembled in Niger. (Wassim Nasr Twitter photo)

Wassim Nasr, a journalist for France24, posted pictures of the Gray Eagle drone on Twitter. The aircraft apparently landed near the U.S. base in Niger. He later posted pictures of the drone being disassembled and checked. 

The drone will continue to be inspected and an investigation to discover the cause of its malfunction will take place. From the pictures provided by Nasr, it appears that the drone landed in good condition and that no harm came to it or its attached missile.

It would be assumed that had the drone landed anywhere near any hostile forces, the Hellfire missile would have been removed and the drone’s other components taken.