The UK Royal Air Force has followed its US counterpart in using General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) unmanned air vehicle as an offensive asset, confirming that its lone example recently released weapons over Afghanistan for the first time.
“The RAF Reaper has now been authorised to carry munitions,” the service says. “We cannot comment on specific operations, but can confirm that an RAF Reaper used its weapon system.”
Further details of the strike – such as the date, weapon type used or the intended target – have not been disclosed, but the RAF says: “As with any other munitions, rules of engagement are strictly adhered to, ensuring that collateral damage is minimised. Whether a mission is armed is operationally sensitive, and what arms are carried on each specific flight is mission specific.”
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Launched and recovered in Afghanistan, but commanded by the RAF’s 39 Sqn from Creech AFB in Nevada, UK Reapers had for some months been expected to commence armed operations as an adjunct to their primary role of providing persistent surveillance for UK and coalition forces.
The RAF has received two Reapers since October 2007 under an urgent operational requirement deal for three air vehicles, plus related mission systems and ground control equipment, but the first of these was destroyed following a forced landing in Afghanistan earlier this year. A third will be delivered next January, while a replacement for its lost aircraft is also now on order.
Also controlled from Creech AFB and used offensively since last October, the US Air Force’s Reapers are typically armed with four Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and two Raytheon 226kg (500lb) Paveway II-class laser-guided bombs.