The Guardian yesterday has claimed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) has to make an urgent purchase of five more Reaper drones, which will be the first to be controlled from a UK base. This article merely confirms long-standing MOD/RAF plans which were announced as far back as December 2010, and then reiterated in 2011.
Speaking at the disbandment of Number XIII Tornado Squadron at RAF Marham on 13 May 2011, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, announced that the squadron number plate was to transfer to a second Reaper Squadron in 2012. He said:
“I am confident that XIII Squadron’s reputation and distinguished history will be carried forward as it transitions to be a part of our Remotely Piloted Force employing the Reaper over Afghanistan.
“This transition will see us bring Reaper mission control to the UK, make more efficient and effective use of our resources in exploiting this growing capability, and enable the operation of significantly more combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance aircraft over Afghanistan 24-hours-a-day.”
In addition, the then Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, said:
“Reaper aircraft are providing valuable support to our front line troops in Afghanistan. We are committed to providing the best available equipment to our Armed Forces. The formation of this new squadron follows our doubling of the Reaper capability to ten aircraft, which represents an increased investment of £135m. This extra squadron will help us get the best out of this valuable armed reconnaissance aircraft.”
The MOD has confirmed that XIII Squadron will be officially ‘stood up’ at a ceremonial event this week; however, operations will not begin immediately.
It should be noted that the MOD only operates its remotely piloted aircraft in Afghanistan to support UK and coalition forces, with the vast majority of operations being surveillance and reconnaissance missions in support of our front line troops, providing them with vital, persistent intelligence, helping to save lives.
Whilst Reaper is armed, on the rare occasions that weapons are used, the same strict rules are followed that govern the use of weapons on manned aircraft; there is always an experienced and qualified pilot making any weapon-release decision in accordance with strict rules of engagement.
Source: Ministry of Defence (UK)