US deploys drones to Baltics
For the first time, the United States has deployed MQ-1 Predator surveillance drones in the Baltic states. The two drones and 70 airmen are based in Latvia for a two-week training mission, Pentagon said.
Drones will be based and controlled from the Lielvarde Air Base near Latvian capital Riga, but they will also enter Estonia’s airspace either on Wednesday or Thursday this week.
The assignment is part of American-led initiative to offer security assurance for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as training.
"This temporary assignment of aircraft and personnel will test their ability to forward deploy RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) to conduct air operations," James Brindle, a Pentagon spokesman, said, adding that it will assure Baltic states of US commitment to regional security and safety.
Last week, US F-22 stealth tactical fighter jets – widely believed to be the most advanced of its kind in the world – landed at Ämari Air Base in Estonia for the first time.
The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator is built by General Atomics and used primarily by the United States Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Initially conceived in the early 1990s for aerial reconnaissance and forward observation roles, the Predator carries cameras and other sensors but has been modified and upgraded to carry and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other munitions. The drones have been in use since 1995 and seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.