The UK Royal Air Force has for the first time released weapons from its lone General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) unmanned air vehicle, following the US Air Force in using the medium-altitude, long-endurance type as an offensive system in Afghanistan.
"We cannot comment on specific operations, but can confirm that an RAF Reaper used its weapon system," the service says. "As with any other munitions, rules of engagement are strictly adhered to, ensuring that collateral damage is minimised," it adds.
"Our mission is to provide persistent ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance] and offensive support to UK and coalition forces," says Wg Cdr Andy Jeffrey, officer commanding the RAF's Reaper-equipped 39 Sqn.
Operated by 39 Sqn personnel from Creech AFB, Nevada, but launched and recovered in Afghanistan, UK Reapers had for some months been expected to start armed operations as an adjunct to their primary duties, which typically include providing route reconnaissance and convoy support for land forces.
© Sgt Gordy Elias/Crown Copyright
The RAF declines to reveal the types of weapon used in recent operations, but its aircraft is believed to carry the same payload employed by US Air Force Reapers since last October typically four Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and two Raytheon 226kg (500lb) Paveway II-class laser-guided bombs.
More than 1,200 flying hours have been logged by 39 Sqn with two Reapers since last October, but it now has just one airframe, following a forced landing incident in Afghanistan earlier this year. It will receive a third UAV next January under an urgent operational requirement deal for three, plus related mission systems and ground control equipment. A replacement for its lost first example is also on order.
See next week's issue of Flight International for our feature on RAF operations using Reaper and Predator UAVs