Pictures released today show additional Reaper aircraft flying from Kandahar Airfield to gather vital intelligence in support of Afghan, UK and ISAF coalition forces on the ground.
The deployment of five new Reapers means there are now twice as many in Afghanistan operating alongside the Army’s Hermes 450. These aircraft provide real-time, life-saving video to ground commanders, which will continue to be vital to allied efforts to secure internal security in Afghanistan as we draw down allied forces from the country this year.
Reaper can monitor areas of interest for a considerable period of time. This affords the crew time to conduct a detailed assessment of any target, or increase in insurgent activity, 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.
Although their primary role is gathering intelligence and providing surveillance and reconnaissance support to ground forces, Reaper can also be armed and carry laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles when the situation demands it. In over 54,000 hours of operations using Reaper in Afghanistan, only 459 weapons have been fired, which is less than one weapon for every 120 hours flying. Non-armed reconnaissance Unmanned Air Systems have flown almost three times as many operations, flying over 160,000 hours.
Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Philip Dunne MP said:
“These new aircraft give the RAF enhanced Force Protection capability in support of UK, ISAF and Afghan troops. As we focus on the drawdown of UK forces from Afghanistan, the ability to provide force protection will become increasingly important and Reaper allows us to provide this assurance, remotely and without significant ground presence.”
Air Commodore Al Gillespie, the Air Component Commander and Air Officer Commanding 83 Expeditionary Air Group who is responsible for the command and control of UK Air assets over Afghanistan said:
“These aircraft will support UK, ISAF and Afghan forces as they work to protect the people of Afghanistan. They provide vital intelligence and precise strike capability without putting our servicemen and women at risk. As we drawn down from Afghanistan it is precisely this technology that will keep us one step ahead and allow us to combat internal security in the country.”
The aircraft will be operated by XIII Sqn from RAF Waddington and 39 Squadron at Creech AFB in the USA. Ground Control Stations have been operational since April 2013 at the base in Lincolnshire, and the standing up of the second Reaper squadron (XIII) has seen Reaper deliver more flight hours than ever before.
Assembled RAF Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) at Kandahar Airfield, in Afghanistan.