November 25, 2013. San Diego. One week ago, an incident aboard the USS Chancellorsville Aegis Cruiser caused burns to two crew members, a hole in its side and forced the ship to return to port. While initial reports didn’t elaborate, follow-up information reveals that the US Navy ship accidentally attacked itself during a training exercise.
The damage from an accidental drone strike on the USS Chancellorsville. Image courtesy of Fox 5 San Diego.
Training mission turns into friendly fire
As details emerge, they reveal that the crew of the USS Chancellorsville was participating in a standard training exercise off the coast of Southern California. The exercise involved a BQM-74 unmanned drone, which was being used as a moving target to test the ship’s radar equipment. Attempting to make the drill as authentically war-like as possible, the missile-shaped drone was aimed directly at the Aegis Cruiser by its remote pilot.
The BQM-74 unmanned drone is 13 feet long and 1 foot in diameter and is meant to simulate an incoming enemy missile. This particular unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is typically launched from a tube installed within or on top of the deck of a ship. It flies with a top speed of Mach 0.8 and can hug the ground at an altitude as low as 30 feet or as high as 40,000 feet.
According to an account of the accident already entered into Wikipedia, the drone participating in the USS Chancellorsville exercise was purposely flying directly at the Cruiser. But it was supposed to turn away when it was one mile away and closing. It didn’t, and struck the port side of the Navy vessel leaving behind a three-foot hole in the side of the ship.
According to a statement from spokesperson Lt. Lenaya Rotklein of the US Third Fleet, the ship with a crew of 300 was returning to port in San Diego after last week Saturday’s accident. She confirmed that Navy officials were already investigating the incident to find out what went wrong. The two injured sailors received burns after the drone’s impact. Officials say the injuries are minor and the crew members are expected to recover.
Northrop Grumman’s BQM-74 UAV
The BQM-74 is an unmanned aerial vehicle manufactured by Northrop Grumman. It’s a later-generation version of a drone first designed in the 1970’s and put to use extensively during the 1991 Gulf War. Interestingly, the UAV’s weren’t used as normally intended during that conflict. Instead, US military officials used the unarmed and unmanned drones to flood Iraq’s air space and radar with ‘dummies’ during the opening hours of the air assault upon Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq and those occupying Kuwait.
As Iraq’s radar and SAM batteries locked onto the dummy drones and attempted to shoot them down, US Navy forces plotted the exact locations of the Iraqi radar beacons and destroyed many of them with missile and stealth bomber attacks. Today, the older models of the UAV are used by US and NATO military forces as target practice and in training exercises. With its cigar-like size and shape, the unmanned drone is an exceptional stand-in for an incoming enemy missile. Navy officials are investigating to determine what went wrong during last week’s exercise and why the drone didn’t turn away from the ship like it was supposed to.
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