RAF Reaper deploys ground attack munitions

June 10th, 2008  

Topic: RAF Reaper deploys ground attack munitions

RAF Reaper deploys ground attack munitions

An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan earlier this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement. This action follows the announcement by the MOD, also this week, that the Reapers of No: 39 Squadron are now authorised to carry weapons.
Unlike the United States Air Force Reapers, which are frequently used to provide Close Air Support to troops, RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) data to coalition and UK forces on Operations.39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing.
The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA. The Officer Commanding 39Sqn, Wg Cdr Andy Jeffrey, described his Squadron’s role: “Our mission is to provide persistent ISTAR, and where required offensive support to UK and Coalition forces involved in Operations.” He added more succinctly: “We are here to make a difference and save lives.”
Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39Sqn is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army. The mix of different service personnel is seen by Wg Cdr Jeffrey as very much a key asset: ”To have an army soldier or Royal Marine who’s had ‘boots on the ground’ in Afghanistan [as part of the Squadron] is absolutely fantastic”.
During a mission the Reaper is controlled by a pilot and a sensor-operator both of whom are experienced aircrew. In addition, a mission coordinator present in the ground station alongside the aircrew is often an experienced soldier or Royal Marine.
Although operating from a purpose built ground station thousands of miles from where the Reaper is actually operating, Wg Cdr Jeffrey was keen to acknowledge the close bond between his Reaper crews and the troops on the ground on operations: “You are in that fight, you are listening to the guy on the ground, on that radio, and who’s taking incoming fire.” He added, “It comes back to people, of saving lives and making a difference, and we are doing that.”
The Ministry of Defence is procuring four Reaper UAVs as part of a UOR or Urgent Operational Requirement. The fourth Reaper will replace the one lost in an accident in April this year.

Photographs: MOD


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