Military UAV flights in the UK – the numbers

The DEW Line and Flightglobal bring you a lot of coverage about what are variously referred to as UAVs, UASs, RPAs, RPASs, or even – and I’m including this word just for the opponents – “drones”.

A goldmine of information, the UK parliament’s Hansard information service has provided details on the number of military UAV flights performed inside the nation’s airspace over the last decade, with armed forces minister James Robathan having on 18 July given a breakdown of what was flown, and where. Not surprisingly, there’s not much to say before the end of 2008, with only 25 sorties listed from the start of 2003. Of these, 22 were logged during a 2006 at-sea trial involving the then-Insitu ScanEagle.

Since the start of 2009 there have been just over 2,900 military UAV flights in the UK. All were performed in segregated airspace above training ranges, with just over 300 of them made from West Wales airport in Aberporth during the development and training phases of the British Army’s long-delayed Watchkeeper programme (Thales image below). A handful of flights have been conducted since 2011 using the Tarantula Hawk and Black Hornet systems, but the massive majority of use – at over 2,600 sorties – has involved the army’s hand-launched Desert Hawk III.

No flights have been made with the Royal Air Force’s Reapers, which are operated only inside Afghanistan, and that’s a situation that shouldn’t be expected to change, with or without protests outside the service’s Waddington site in Lincolnshire, where a ground control station for the type was recently activated. The potential for anyone to fly a vehicle of this size in open airspace in the UK remains a distant vision, despite the work of industry to demonstrate supporting technologies through initiatives like ASTRAEA.

Watchkeeper side - Thales

On the same topic, I’ll be among a team of reporters heading to the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013 convention in Washington, DC in just over a week. The event will run from 12-15 August, and a pre-show features package is just starting to appear on our exclusive FG Club.

If you’d like to see in-depth articles on topics ranging from manned-unmanned teaming, US and UK airspace integration efforts, how UAS could perform in an anti-access/area denial scenario and AAI’s improved Shadow M2, please login or sign up for free by clicking here.


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