The UK MoD have announced today that UK Reaper drones have now notched up over 20,000 hours flying over Afghanistan since they were first deployed in October 2007.
In the self-congratulatory announcement Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn makes the point that by flying over Afghanistan, the Reaper drone is “saving lives” and “making a real difference.” He is, of course, lest there be any confusion, referring to the lives of British troops, not ordinary Afghans :
“The real-time, day and night video coverage of the battle space, combined with the extensive use of onboard radar, provides a unique, cost effective and sustained capability that enhances the safety of troops on the ground. This cutting-edge remotely-piloted aircraft provides an impressive range of capabilities that are saving lives and making a real difference to the troops in Afghanistan.”
Not a word, of course, about the casualties of Britain’s drone wars, whether civilian or ‘militants’. The only indication that there have been victims came from David Cameron’s boast to journalists in December that more than 124 insurgents had been killed in British drone attacks. All questions about these 124 ‘insurgents’ – and whether there have been any other civilian casualties – have simply gone answered…..
Meanwhile, the RAF’s Project Daedalus, to investigate if non-pilots could be trained to fly unmanned aerial systems as well as fully trained pilots has been ‘completed’. According to the RAF, the programme
“has successfully demonstrated that selection and training can generate remote pilots who, despite undergoing a different sort of training, are as highly trained and equally skilled as traditional pilots in that field.”
This could have far-reaching implications given that both in the US and the UK current drone pilots are only drawn from those with previous fast-jet flying experience. An interview, from April 2010, with those involved in the training can be read here.
Must mention, finally, Steve Bell’s wonderful cartoon comment on David Cameron’s trip this week to Pakistan: