The UK Royal Air Force has conducted the first air strike using one of its General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicles against Islamic State insurgents in Iraq, following the type's deployment in support of the anti-extremist mission last month.
Confirming the development on 10 November, the Ministry of Defence said the remotely piloted air system (RPAS) deployed a Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile against militants who were laying an improvised explosive device near Bayji, north of Baghdad.
“The Reaper RPAS, using procedures identical to those of manned aircraft, successfully attacked the terrorists using a Hellfire missile,” the MoD says.
RAF Reapers then carried on providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services for other coalition aircraft that helped facilitate further strikes.
The UK government confirmed on 16 October that it was to redeploy an undisclosed number – believed to be two – of its 10-strong Reaper fleet from Afghanistan to support the US-led coalition’s operations in countering Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Until now, the RAF's UAVs had been conducting only surveillance missions.
In early November, the RAF confirmed that it was to double the capability that it is providing over Iraq. It is believed that the service is currently flying one mission per day over the country and intends to double this shortly. However, it notes that this will not necessarily result in a doubling of the number of aircraft deployed to the region.
Meanwhile, on the morning of 9 November, two RAF Panavia Tornado GR4s were tasked to investigate suspected Islamic State activity near Al Anbar, west of Baghdad, the MoD says in its 10 November statement.
“A single [MBDA] Brimstone missile was used to successfully destroy a shipping container used by the terrorists to store equipment to support extortion and control of the local population,” it adds.