The MOD has, for the first time, opened the doors to its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) control centre, based in the UK.
Pictures and footage released today (Wednesday 18 December) show the hi-tech operations room at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire where members of XIII Squadron remotely operate the RAF’s Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan.
Reaper is just one of a range of UAS, including remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), operated by all three Services providing vital, life saving intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance on operations.
Showing this work is a key way to dispel some common myths about the role of the equipment, which UK forces use predominantly in Afghanistan.
During a visit to RAF Waddington Defence Secretary Philip Hammond viewed the full range of current and future equipment including:
Hermes 450 (Army)
Black Hornet Nano (Army)
Tarantula Hawk (Army)
Scan Eagle (Royal Navy)
Mr Hammond also spoke to infantry soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan who spoke of the benefits the ‘eyes in the sky’ can provide troops on the ground.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
“Vital to our efforts to protect our forces and the people of Afghanistan, this battle-winning technology allows us to: understand the situation on the ground more clearly; develop better intelligence; and precisely strike, within our rules of engagement, those who threaten or hurt the people we are protecting. Much of the criticism of Unmanned Aerial Systems is based on misunderstanding. This event provides a great opportunity to better inform people about these life-saving assets and their variety of purpose.”
Air Vice-Marshal Philip Osborn, Joint Force Command Capability Director, said:
“The UK’s unmanned aircraft systems – or as they are increasingly called ‘remotely piloted air systems’ – provide UK and Coalition Forces with vital intelligence derived from the aircraft’s unique ability to loiter over the enemy for hours, and provide persistent surveillance of enemy positions without putting our Servicemen and women at unnecessary risk.
“In today’s operational environment, unmanned and remotely piloted air systems are increasingly vital to keep one step ahead of the enemy, and to save military and civilian lives. Highly trained and experienced personnel are at the heart of the capability, and human oversight and control is always paramount. This is a capability just like every other across Defence – it has skilled and motivated people at its core, people who are in charge of technology and use it in strict accordance with the law.”
Viewing the inside of a Reaper control cabin, the Defence Secretary was able to see how it is guided and controlled at all times by a team of highly trained and skilled people. Pilots, sensor operators and analysts all make decisions in real time, exactly like the crew of a traditional aircraft.
In over 54,000 hours of operations, the UK’s Reaper, the only armed system used by British Armed Forces, has just fired 459 precision weapons. When a precision strike capability is required from RAF Reaper aircraft by ground commanders this is always in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict, and is governed by strict rules of engagement – exactly the same as manned aircraft.
For video footage, check out the BBC coverage of Hammond’s visit