UK opts for domestic control of Afghanistan Reapers
Control of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Reaper MQ-9 UAVs based in Afghanistan is to move to the UK, with the announcement that a new squadron for the aircraft is to be formed at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
ACM Stephen Dalton made the announcement on 13 May, the same day Number XIII Tornado Squadron was disbanded at RAF Marham. A second Reaper squadron, to be created next year, will adopt the Tornado squadron’s number.
The MALE aircraft, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), will continue to be based in Afghanistan, but control will transfer from the 39 squadron crews that managed it at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, US, to the UK.
‘This transition will see us bring Reaper mission control to the UK, make more efficient and effective use of our resources in exploiting this growing capability, and enable the operation of significantly more combat intelligence surveillance target acquisition and reconnaissance aircraft over Afghanistan 24 hours a day,’ Dalton commented.
Liam Fox, UK defence secretary, added: ‘The formation of this new squadron follows our doubling of the Reaper capability to ten aircraft, which represents an increased investment of £135 million’.
The approval for the doubling of the capability was announced by the Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2010. The investment will see the armed ISR coverage provided by the Reaper increase from 36 to 72 hours of persistent coverage per day by 2015.
For the provision of this extra coverage, an additional five Reapers, and four Reaper ground controls stations are to be acquired from the US government.
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