The UK Royal Air Force is to double its fleet of General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicles, following the confirmation of a £135 million ($213 million) deal by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Flown from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan, the RAF’s armed Reapers are used to provide persistent combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance services in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. The type also “has already proved successful in helping to both detect and destroy enemy targets and IED [improvised explosive device] networks,” the Ministry of Defence says.

 RAF Reaper UAV - Crown Copyright
© Sgt Corinne Buxton/Crown Copyright

Acquired under an urgent operational requirement deal, the UK’s Reapers have been used in support of ISAF operations since October 2007, and in an armed capacity from early the following year. Controlled by 39 Sqn personnel located at Creech AFB in Nevada, the type had by early this year flown more than 10,000h in the country.

Under the new deal, the UK’s Reaper fleet is expected to increase to around 10 air vehicles and associated ground control station equipment. The RAF refers to the type as a remotely piloted air system, or RPAS.

The UK’s recent Strategic Defence and Security Review identified a need for the RAF to acquire “a growing fleet of unmanned air vehicles”, also potentially through a collaborative effort between BAE Systems and French manufacturer Dassault.