The UK Royal Air Force has provided further details of its use of US Air Force-owned General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator unmanned air vehicles in Iraq. Flown under a three-year urgent operational requirement deal contracted last year, UK-controlled Predators are required to provide persistent wide-area surveillance for 12h a day over Iraqi cities such as Basra and Fallujah, controlled by pilots and sensor operators based at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

The UK Ministry of Defence approved the deal due to the operational limitations of the British Army’s current BAE Systems Phoenix intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance UAVs in Iraq’s demanding environmental conditions, and to reign in the overland surveillance demands placed on the RAF’s BAE Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol fleet.

Predator Joint Task Force operations by the RAF’s 1115 Flight currently represent one system orbit in Iraq, with this equating to around 18% of the total Predator coverage supplied by the USAF’s R/MQ-1 air vehicles, says Gp Capt Andy Fryer from the RAF’s Headquarters 3 Group.

A 44-strong detachment supports the deployment, including eight pilots and seven sensor operators, plus intelligence, administration, meteorological and operations staff, including non-air force personnel.

Operations take place in concert with ground forces, with streaming video acquired by the Predator relayed to forward air controllers equipped with Rover terminals over a line-of-sight distance of up to 200km (110nm).

Future expansion to the UK’s capabilities could include the ability to use the Predator to support urban close-air support and combat search and rescue missions, Fryer told RUSI’s Unmanned Vehicle Systems conference in London on 12 July. However, there is currently no training in place to support such a development, he says.


Source: Flight International