The UK Royal Air Force has taken delivery of the last General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicle funded under an urgent operational requirement deal to support coalition operations in Afghanistan.

Referred to by the RAF as a remotely piloted air system, the Reaper air vehicle was delivered to Kandahar airfield in late September using one of the service’s Boeing C-17 strategic transports. It is due to enter use this month.

 RAF Reaper box - Crown Copyright
© Cpl Ashley Keates/Crown Copyright

The RAF says its Reapers have now logged more than 13,900 flight hours since entering use in Afghanistan in October 2007 in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

As the fleet has grown in numbers, the level of cover available has also increased significantly, the air force says. An 80% rise in operational use has been recorded within the last 12 months, with almost 4,000h of the total operating time having been added since May 2010.

“This new aircraft will enable us to increase the amount of operational support that we can provide to ISAF forces,” says 39 Sqn officer commanding Wg Cdr Jules Ball.

Controlled from Creech AFB in Nevada but launched and recovered by a forward-deployed crew, the RAF’s Reapers can now deliver a combined 36h of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance cover per day.

The type also has an offensive capability, having been armed with two Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and two Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway 226kg (500lb) laser-guided bombs since May 2008.

 RAF Reaper, Crown copyright
© Crown Copyright

The RAF has previously outlined plans to increase the size of its Reaper fleet to include 10 air vehicles.