> our title:

UK MoD Shows Off UAVs, Touts Moderation

> original title:

Defence Secretary Meets the Military’s Remote-Control Pilots

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued Dec. 17, 2013)

The MOD has, for the first time, opened the doors to its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) control centre, based in the UK.

Pictures and footage released today (Wednesday 18 December) show the hi-tech operations room at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire where members of XIII Squadron remotely operate the RAF’s Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan.

Reaper is just one of a range of UAS, including remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), operated by all three Services providing vital, life-saving intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance on operations.

Showing this work is a key way to dispel some common myths about the role of the equipment, which UK forces use predominantly in Afghanistan.

During a visit to RAF Waddington Defence Secretary Philip Hammond viewed the full range of current and future equipment including:

• Hermes 450 (Army)
• Black Hornet Nano (Army)
• Tarantula Hawk (Army)
• Watchkeeper (Army)
• Scan Eagle (Royal Navy)

Mr Hammond also spoke to infantry soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan who spoke of the benefits the ‘eyes in the sky’ can provide troops on the ground.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:

“Vital to our efforts to protect our forces and the people of Afghanistan, this battle-winning technology allows us to: understand the situation on the ground more clearly; develop better intelligence; and precisely strike, within our rules of engagement, those who threaten or hurt the people we are protecting. Much of the criticism of Unmanned Aerial Systems is based on misunderstanding. This event provides a great opportunity to better inform people about these life-saving assets and their variety of purpose.”

Air Vice-Marshal Philip Osborn, Joint Force Command Capability Director, said:

“The UK’s unmanned aircraft systems – or as they are increasingly called ‘remotely piloted air systems’ – provide UK and Coalition Forces with vital intelligence derived from the aircraft’s unique ability to loiter over the enemy for hours, and provide persistent surveillance of enemy positions without putting our Servicemen and women at unnecessary risk.

“In today's operational environment, unmanned and remotely piloted air systems are increasingly vital to keep one step ahead of the enemy, and to save military and civilian lives. Highly trained and experienced personnel are at the heart of the capability, and human oversight and control is always paramount. This is a capability just like every other across Defence – it has skilled and motivated people at its core, people who are in charge of technology and use it in strict accordance with the law.”

Viewing the inside of a Reaper control cabin, the Defence Secretary was able to see how it is guided and controlled at all times by a team of highly trained and skilled people. Pilots, sensor operators and analysts all make decisions in real time, exactly like the crew of a traditional aircraft. In over 54,000 hours of operations, the UK’s Reaper, the only armed system used by British Armed Forces, has just fired 459 precision weapons. When a precision strike capability is required from RAF Reaper aircraft by ground commanders this is always in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict, and is governed by strict rules of engagement – exactly the same as manned aircraft.


The Ministry of Defence currently operates:

Reaper MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft System:
• Remotely piloted by Royal Air Force pilots.
• Designed for medium altitude and long endurance surveillance operations.
• Carries precision guided air to ground missiles and bombs.
• Weapons can only be fired on the command of RAF pilots.
• UK Reaper only used within Afghanistan.
• Five aircraft in-service which will expand to a fleet of 10.
• Procured from USAF and manufactured by General Atomics US.
• 54,000 hours flown and 459 weapons fired since 2007.
• Total approved cost of £506M.

Hermes 450 Tactical Unmanned Aerial System:
• Unarmed. Provides video surveillance to UK ground forces day and night.
• Remotely piloted by trained members of the Army (Royal Artillery).
• At all times there are up to 9 Hermes 450s available for use.
• Aircraft provided by Thales UK.
• 85,000 hours flown in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2007.
• Total approved cost of £215M.

Desert Hawk Mini Unmanned Aerial System:
• Unarmed. Provides key surveillance and intelligence.
• Operated by trained members of the Army (Royal Artillery).
• Carried by armed forces on the ground and launched by hand.
• Can be used day and night on the frontline in Afghanistan.
• MOD has 34 DH3 systems. Each system is made up of 8-10 aircraft
• Manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
• 30,000 hours flown in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
• Total approved cost of £70M.

Scan Eagle Maritime Unmanned Aerial System:
• Unarmed. Provides key surveillance and intelligence.
• Operated by a specialist contractor team on board Royal Navy vessels.
• The first maritime-specific unmanned reconnaissance asset that operates from UK warships and auxiliaries day or night.
• Manufactured by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.
• 600 hours flying per month.
• Total approved cost of £38M.

Black Hornet Nano-UAS:
• Unarmed. Provides surveillance and intelligence.
• Operated by Infantry.
• Used in Afghanistan since 2012.
• Manufactured by Prox Dynamics.
• Total financial approved of £20M.

Tarantula-Hawk Unmanned Aerial System:
• Unarmed. Examines possible IEDs to allow safe passage and assist in the clearance of these devices.
• Operated by the Royal Engineers Counter Improvised Explosive Devices task force.
• Designed for short endurance, lightweight, vertical take-off and landing.
• Around 550 hours flown.
• Total approved cost of £15M.

Future MoD UAS programmes

Watchkeeper Tactical Unmanned Aerial System:
• Unarmed. Will provide surveillance and intelligence.
• Will provide enduring tactical UAS capability.
• Remotely piloted by trained members of the Army (Royal Artillery).
• Features state of the art sensors and laser designators.
• 54 aircraft have been procured from Thales UK.
• Over 500 hours flown in UK to trial the system ahead of going in to service.
• Total approved cost of around £1Bn.

Scavenger programme:
• A project to provide an armed medium altitude and long endurance surveillance capability up to 2030.
• Scavenger is currently in assessment phase.

• A Technical Demonstrator Programme for stealth, unmanned combat aircraft.
• Joint project with BAE Systems (Rolls Royce, QinetiQ & GE Aviation).
• Evidence from the Taranis programme is already helping to inform future combat air capability planning.
• Joint MoD and industry funded with a current contract value around £180M.

Fact versus fiction

** Fiction: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) are operated by machines, not humans.

Fact: UK RPAS and UAS are only flown by RAF pilots and trained members of the Armed Forces. UK RPAS and UAS are always flown and controlled by trained personnel and on Reaper, the only armed UAS, it is a qualified and experienced RAF Pilot - not a machine - that decides whether a weapon is fired.

**Fiction: All UAS are armed and their sole purpose is to drop missiles.

Fact: Only Reaper, which makes up a very small proportion of the MOD’s overall UAS capability, carries weapons. In fact the main purpose of all MOD UAS is to provide surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence to inform front-line troops and save both military and civilian lives in Afghanistan.

** Fiction: There are hundreds of armed ‘drones’ flying every day in Afghanistan.

Fact: The current fleet of UAS have flown nearly 170,000 hours in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. All are operated by trained pilots or operators. Only 459 weapons have been fired in over 54,000 hours of Reaper RPAS operations in Afghanistan (as of Nov ’13).This is less than one weapon in every 120 hours of Reaper aircraft flying. Unarmed UAS have flown more than double as many hours with around 115,000 flight hours.

**Fiction: A computer decides what to target and fire upon.

Fact: All UAS are operated by professional and trained personnel. For Reaper, trained pilots, not a computer, decide whether to fire a weapon. Weapons are only released under strict rules of engagement on legal targets.

** Fiction: The MOD is planning to create weapons that have no human control.

Fact: The MOD has no plans to create weapons that operate without human control. Trained members of the armed forces will always be involved in the command and control of UAS / RPAS.

**Fiction: UAS strikes are not very accurate.

Fact: UAS / RPAS offer precision. The ability of UAS to monitor a situation for extended period of time offers the ability to ensure that strikes are completed with the absolute minimum risk of civilian casualties. The professional aircrews flying RPAS are often assigned to operations for extended periods and may consequently fly missions in Afghanistan for many years which gives them an unrivalled depth of knowledge and familiarity with the environment in which they are operating.

**Fiction: UK UAS are responsible for the deaths of many civilians.

Fact: In over 50,000 hours of Reaper operations there is only one known operation that has resulted in the deaths of civilians. On 25 March 2011 an attack on two pick-up trucks resulted in the destruction of a significant quantity of insurgent explosives and the death of two insurgents. Sadly four Afghanistan civilians were also killed. An ISAF investigation concluded that the Reaper crew acted in accordance with established procedures and rules of engagement.

**Fiction: Pilots are desensitised to what they are doing as they fly UAS remotely.

Fact: Quite the opposite. The experienced pilots who fly UAS do not face the same level of direct danger as crews of manned aircraft. Because of this, and the greater amount of time they can spend in the air assessing the situation, crews are able to exercise their judgement in a more measured way, free from the stresses of the combat zone or concerns about their survival. Likewise the persistence of UAS ensures the crew observe the aftermath of their actions.

**Fiction: The use of UAS increases the likelihood of civilian casualties.

Fact: UAS can monitor areas of interest for a considerable period of time. This affords the crew time to conduct a detailed assessment of any target, the environment in which they are operating and the ability to time any attack to minimise the risk of civilian casualties or unnecessary damage to property. Crucially the surveillance they provide decreases the risks to ground forces and civilians.

**Fiction: There are no rules governing use of UAS and as a result they have been used to undertake targeted killings.

Fact: On the rare occasions that weapons are used, the same strict rules are followed that govern the use of weapons on other aircraft. All systems are operated in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and the strict Rules of Engagement.

**Fiction: Armed UAS can be operated from anywhere in the world.

Fact: UK Reaper RPAS on operations in Afghanistan are piloted from control stations at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire and Creech Air Force Base in the United States.

**Fiction: The MOD is exporting UAS to many different countries

Fact: The Government does not export UAS. The UK takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously operating one of the most robust export licensing regimes in the world. Quite rightly, these regulations apply to any UK based manufacturers wishing to export UAS in exactly the same way as for any other defence related exports.