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RAF strikes in Iraq with Predator

UK Ministry of Defence reveals details of UAV Hellfire missile attack on insurgents near Najaf late last year

UK armed forces have conducted their first strike using an armed unmanned air vehicle, according to information released last week by assistant chief of air staff Air Vice Marshal David Walker. Conducted late last year, the strike involved the release of an undisclosed number of Hellfire air-to-surface missiles from a US Air Force-assigned General Atomics MQ-1 Predator UAV, says Walker.

Few details of the attack have been disclosed, but the incident is known to have taken place against insurgents near the Iraqi town of Najaf in late 2004. The strike was commanded by a Royal Air Force officer assigned to the UK/US Combined Joint Predator Task Force at Indian Springs, Nevada. The UK Ministry of Defence declined to disclose further details.

Discussing the implications of the operational activity at last week's Royal Aeronautical Society/Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems association UAV Systems conference in London, Walker said: "We consider all actions were perfectly legal." The UK strike follows extensive use of armed Predators by the USA since late 2001.

Walker also reveals that the MoD has produced a UAV roadmap for future development activities and says this will be publicly available within months. Planned to optimise research and technology investment and programme planning, the initiative is intended to create a future UAV"community of excellence" in the UK, he says. The vision outlined is for the UK "to integrate and operate UAVs and UCAVs [unmanned combat air vehicles] in the joint and combined battlespace" from 2008-9, he says.

The MoD also last week announced the formation of its fourth Defence Technology Centre, which will focus on the development of autonomous systems for future unmanned vehicles.

CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON

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