Some interesting facts and figures on UK drone use emerge in a Parliamentary report, published by the House of Commons library. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones): an introduction notes that the UK currently operates four major types of UAVs in Afghanistan, three of which are operated by the Army (Hermes 450, Class 1 Desert Hawk and the T-Hawk) and one (the MQ-9 Reaper) used by the RAF.
The five RAF Reapers are the only armed drones used in Afghanistan, but there are also nine Hermes 450 drones that provide tactical level imagery to unit and formation commanders on the ground and which require an airstrip to launch.
There are also 239 Desert Hawk 3s, which are hand-launched drones, designed to provide ground forces with a live tactical video feed and which are primarily used by bomb defusing teams to examine suspicious structures or vehicles.
There are also apparently 64 Black Hornet nano-drones, that weight only 16g, although no information is provided on their operational use.
Currently there are 31 RAF personnel qualified to pilot the Reaper aircraft, with plans to train a further 16 pilots. "Reaper pilots are all RAF and Royal Navy pilots who are qualified in operating other military aircraft. The majority have served on at least one operational tour on a traditional manned platform. 32 RAF personnel are qualified to pilot the Reaper. Operators of the Army’s unmanned UAVs are not required to be qualified pilots because of the greater level of autonomy of their UAVs."
Altogether 290 personnel are involved in delivering Desert Hawk, Hermes 450 and Reaper. This includes command, aircrew, technicians, intelligence and support staff. The total financial approval for delivering and supporting the UK Reaper system from 2007 until the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2015, is £506 million.
Since entering service in 2007, only one Reaper has been lost, due to mechanical failure. Eleven of the Hermes 450 drones have crashed in the same period. The UK’s fleet of UAVs have carried out over 100,000 hours of flying in Afghanistan and fired 349 precision-guided weapons (297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs). The report says Afghan civilians have only been killed on one occasion by drones in March 2011, when two insurgents and four civilians were killed and two civilians injured. A report into the incident has not been published.
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