A Royal Air Force crew has performed the first weapons release over Afghanistan from a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Reaper being controlled from UK soil, one week after conducting the first such operation from its Waddington base in Lincolnshire.

In a statement, the UK Ministry of Defence says it "can confirm that a Reaper remotely piloted aircraft system, operated by pilots from 13 Sqn located at RAF Waddington, has fired a weapon during a mission supporting UK forces on the ground in Afghanistan."

The action is believed to have been taken during a sortie flown on 30 April, but the MoD says it "does not discuss details of specific missions for operational security reasons".

Also operated by the RAF's 39 Sqn from the US Air Force's Creech AFB in Nevada since late 2007, the UK's Reapers each carry two Raytheon 226kg (500lb) GBU-12 Paveway laser-guided bombs and four Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.

 RAF Reaper - Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

RAF Reapers have accumulated 45,000 flight hours over Afghanistan, and used more than 380 weapons 

Five Reapers are currently in the RAF inventory, flying from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan, with the type primarily used for persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks, using its electro-optical/infrared sensor and synthetic aperture radar payload. A follow-on batch of aircraft being acquired via an urgent operational requirement deal will increase this number to 10, with the additional examples expected to enter use soon.

The MoD says its Reapers have used more than 380 weapons during a combined total of 45,000 flight hours accumulated in Afghanistan since 2007.

Join the debate about the UK's Reaper operations on our The DEW Line blog.

Source: Flight International