November 24, 2013: On November 16th an American cruiser (USS Chancellorsville) was hit by a missile and two of the 300 sailors on board were lightly wounded. There was some damage to the port (left) side of the ship. The missile in question was an American UAV, in this case a BQM-74E Chukar III target drone. There appears to have been a malfunction on the UAV, which was being controlled from land (at Point Magu) as part of a test of the ship’s radar.
The U.S. Navy (and several others) use these drones to simulate enemy cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. The 3.94 meter (12.9 foot) BQM-74E weighs 249 kg (548 pounds), is launched using a rocket, has an endurance of 68 minutes, top speed of 900 kilometers an hour, and max range of about 500 kilometers. BQM-74Es are designed to use a parachute to land in the water and float until lifted out, refurbished, and reused. The BQM-74E uses an autopilot which is programmed to fly a specific series of maneuvers at whatever speed, direction, and altitude (up to 12,000 meters/39,000 feet) the user desires. Over 3,000 BQM-74s have been built since the late 1960s and the current ones cost about $375,000 each.
BQM-74Es were in the news earlier this year (January 6th), when Filipino fishermen found one floating off the eastern Philippines. The red painted, and initially unidentified, UAV was towed back to a beach and the police were called. The cops summoned the navy and a naval officer recognized the UAV as a BQM-74E. There was also an ID plate on the UAV which said that, as well as showing when the UAV entered service (2008). The BQM-74E found near the Philippines was lost 2,500 kilometers away off Guam the previous December. Back then the UAV had been launched from a destroyer to be used for target practice but something went wrong with its guidance system and the navy could not find it. The UAV was believed lost but actually landed intact and then drifted over 2,000 kilometers, until it reached the Philippines. There leftist politicians and media accused the U.S. of using the UAV to spy on rebels who are negotiating a peace deal with the government. The BQM-74 has never been used for taking photos, but a good journalist does not let something like that get in the way of a good story. Neither North Korea nor Iran have yet claimed to have taken control of the BQM-74E and directed it to attack the American cruiser.