RAF Reapers enter 2012 on operational high

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UK operations with the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Reaper remotely piloted air system have taken on increased importance in Afghanistan, with the Royal Air Force routinely using the type for offensive tasks.

The RAF's Reapers flew more than 1,200 missions last year, according to an operational update issued by the service on 31 December. Assigned to its 39 Sqn and flown from Kandahar airfield, the aircraft supplied a combined 11,000h of full motion video footage during 2011, it added.

Five deployed air vehicles provide about 300h of video coverage per week, with their contribution supplying an important part of the UK's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in Afghanistan. They also carry a weapons load comprising four Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and two Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway II 226kg (498lb) precision-guided bombs.

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The total number of weapons used in November 2011 represented a new high for the RAF's Reaper force, and was "greater than the cumulative total for the first five months of the year", according to the service. Twelve strikes were conducted within a two-week period during the month, with targets having included insurgents who were firing on allied forces and others who were spotted while placing improvised explosive devices.

Other categories of target mentioned in updates since last September include fast-moving ground vehicles, insurgents hiding along tree lines and near civilians, others attacked while testing home-made explosives, plus weapons caches. Seven insurgents were killed by a single Hellfire missile during one attack, the air force said.

RAF use of the Reaper will increase during 2012, with the service due to take delivery of a second batch of six air vehicles to support operations in Afghanistan.