> our title:

UK MoD Defends Policy on UAV Operations

> original title:

Use of Unmanned Aircraft

(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued May 13, 2011)

In its response column today, the Guardian carries an article by Chris Cole in which he refers to the use of 'British drones' being surrounded by a 'wall of silence'.

The MOD uses a range of remotely-piloted aircraft that are providing valuable support to our front line troops in Afghanistan. The MOD has one remotely-piloted aircraft that carries weapons, Reaper, and the use of these weapons is governed by the same strict rules as manned aircraft. UK Reaper crews operate under the UK chain of command and to UK Rules of Engagement.

All MOD aircraft are piloted by highly trained and experienced crews, even those that are unmanned, which is why we refer to them as remotely-piloted aircraft.

Individual targets must always be positively identified and confirmed as a legitimate military objective, and attacks prosecuted in accordance with the Laws of Armed Conflict and UK Rules of Engagement. Reaper is not an autonomous system and the aircraft do not have the capability to employ weapons unless commanded to do so by the flight crew.

The MOD is open about how much we use Reaper and we recently announced that it had passed the landmark of 20,000 flying hours supporting our front line forces in Afghanistan, and since its introduction to service in October 2007 it has used 167 precision-guided weapons, of which 46 were GBU-12 laser-guided bombs and 121 were laser-guided Hellfire missiles.

The MOD has no evidence to suggest that there is a greater risk posed to civilians as a result of a decision to use UK Reaper to engage a target as opposed to a manned aircraft.