UK Royal Air Force operations with the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper have passed the 20,000 flight hour mark in Afghanistan, the service has announced.
Referred to by the RAF as a remotely piloted aircraft, Reaper is launched from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan before control of the mission is handed over to other personnel from its 39 Sqn located at the US Air Force’s Creech AFB in Nevada. The unit’s forward-deployed launch and recovery element later lands the aircraft at the end of a the mission.
The RAF says typical activities see the air system “gather pre-raid intelligence on target compounds, assist in countering improvised explosive devices and provide surveillance for routine patrols and supply convoys.” If required, the aircraft can also deploy weapons from its typical load of two Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway 226kg (500lb) precision-guided bombs and four Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.
© Cpl Steve Follows/Crown Copyright
“The Reaper force is an essential element of the RAF’s combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability,” says Air Vice Marshal Philip Osborn, Air Officer Commanding the service’s 2 Group. “The real time, day and night video coverage of the battle space combined with the extensive use of onboard radar provides a unique, cost-effective and sustained capability that enhances the safety of troops on the ground.”
UK operations with the Reaper in Afghanistan started in October 2007. Completing the first 10,000 flight hours with the type took until May 2010, with a fleet expansion having contributed to the doubling of this total within less than the last year.