The Royal Air Force has formed its second squadron to be equipped with the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Reaper remotely piloted air system and introduced the ability, for the first time, to manage operations of the type over Afghanistan from the UK.
Stood up at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on 26 October, 13 Sqn will enable the UK to double the strength of its Reaper force, which will eventually total 10 of the armed type. New infrastructure in place at the site includes ground control stations and satellite communication equipment required to fly the aircraft remotely.
"UK Reapers are integral to the RAF's airpower capability, complementing the squadrons of manned aircraft," the service says. Launched from and recovered to Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan, the aircraft are due to support the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) until 2015. The Ministry of Defence says its acquisition and use of the type by this time will total £506 million ($817 million) from its combat introduction in 2007.
Activities with the Reaper in Afghanistan have until now been performed by the RAF's 39 Sqn, which is based at Creech AFB in Nevada, USA.
"13 Sqn will increase the RAF's ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance] capability in Afghanistan and continue to save lives and make a difference in support of ISAF operations," says Wg Cdr Andy Bird, its officer commanding. The unit had previously operated the Panavia Tornado GR4 until mid-2011.