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UK reveals sharp increase in Reaper Hellfire use

A sharp surge in the number of Lockheed Martin AGM-114 missiles deployed from the Royal Air Force’s unmanned air vehicle fleet was seen between 2014 and 2015, marking a rise in the type's use from the drawdown from intervention in Afghanistan, to current operations in Iraq and Syria.

Only 93 and 94 Hellfires were deployed from the RAF’s General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reapers in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This was followed by a steep increase, to 258 rounds fired, on operations in 2015.

The shift represents the lessened role of the Reaper as the UK withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014 to the reliance the RAF has on the UAV to support the coalition intervention against Islamic State militants.

According to a House of Lords parliamentary written response published on 26 January, the number of Hellfires fired from Reapers on operations rose sixteenfold in 2015, from 16 in 2008.

The Reaper has been operated by the RAF since 2007, with the first armed sortie carried out in Afghanistan in May 2008. The UK operates 10 of the type and plans to “at least double” this capability through its Protector programme, which aims to replace the MQ-9 by 2020.

The written response adds, no Hellfires were deployed from the UAV in support of training, because the type has been continuously deployed since its operational introduction. This includes support of UK intervention in Afghanistan from 2008-2014, Iraq from 2014-2015 and Syria since 2015.

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Meanwhile, the other UK platform that carries the weapon – the Army Air Corps’ AgustaWestland/Boeing Apache AH1 rotorcraft – fired 1,578 Hellfires on operations in Afghanistan, the response reveals. “The nature of the records means that this total number cannot be accurately broken down by financial year,” it adds.

It does, however, detail the number of weapons fired in support of training by year. These were fairly low and consistent, peaking at 48 in 2010-2011 from a low of 14 in 2007-2008. A total of 221 missiles were fired from Apaches during training between April 2007 and March 2015.

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