An MQ-9 Reaper takes off at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.
An MQ-9 Reaper takes off at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev. - 
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The U.S. has stepped up its campaign against piracy in the Indian Ocean. For the first time, big hunter-killer surveillance drones called Reapers, have started patrolling off the coast of Somalia. Marketplace's Stephen Beard has more.

Stephen Beard: The end of the monsoon season has brought a rash of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean. The Reapers have been deployed to meet the rising threat. Thirty-six-feet long, these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- or UAVs -- are the size of a jet fighter. They are capable of carrying a dozen guided bombs.

These Reapers are designed solely for surveillance though. They are not armed. Nor should they be says Karen Jacques of Dryad Maritime Intelligence. She says there's too much scope for error.

KAREN JACQUES: Even when you're on a cargo ship or a yacht, being approached by a skiff, at 300 yards, even at that distance it's very hard to determine whether you are actually being attacked or not. Let alone watching from a UAV at long distance.

U.S. officials concede that the Reapers will help combat, but not eliminate the hijackings. In a chaotic, impoverished place like Somalia, the financial attractions of piracy are just too great.

In London this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.